Joseph T. Johnson, MD
Elbow pain? It may be tennis elbow
You don’t have to play tennis to be diagnosed with tennis elbow.
Elbow pain can be caused by a variety of problems. A common cause in adults is tendinitis, an inflammation and injury to the tendons — soft tissues that attach muscle to bone.
Tennis elbow is a condition that produces severe, burning pain over the bone at the side of the elbow. The medical term for tennis elbow is lateral epicondylitis. The pain results from inflammation of the tendon that attaches muscle to the bony projection (called the epicondyle) on the outside of the elbow.
Tennis elbow usually begins with mild pain and can worsen over time. The pain is worsened by pressing on the affected area, by lifting objects particularly with extension of the wrist. Using a screwdriver can worsen the injury and cause pain. In advanced cases, even simple movements of the elbow joint can produce pain.
While tennis elbow affects up to half of people who participate in racquet sports, most people who develop tennis elbow do not play racquet sports.
Work activities that involve frequent use of the forearm muscles, such as meat cutting, painting, plumbing, or weaving are also associated with the development of tennis elbow.
The treatment of lateral epicondylitis may include ice packs, resting the involved elbow, stretching exercises and anti-inflammatory medications. Anti-inflammatory medications typically used include aspirin and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as naproxen and ibuprofen. Bracing the elbow can help. Simple braces for tennis elbow can be found in community pharmacies and athletic goods stores. Local cortisone injections are given for persistent pain. Activity involving the elbow is resumed gradually. Ice application after activity can reduce or prevent recurrent inflammation. Occasionally, supportive straps can prevent re-injury. In severe cases, an orthopedic surgical repair is performed.
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