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Tennis elbow is an informal term that refers to pain along the outside of your elbow. It is common among tennis players, but other people can get it, too. You may be at risk for tennis elbow if you do repetitive motions with your arm. The condition can develop suddenly, such as after lifting a heavy object, or over time.

Symptoms and Causes of Tennis Elbow

Tennis elbow may cause you to experience mild to intense pain about one inch below the bony part of your elbow. You might also notice some weakness in your forearm and wrist. The weakness may cause you to have difficulty with opening jars, gripping a pen, or buttoning a shirt. In most cases, tennis elbow is an overuse injury. Too much physical activity or doing an activity that overburdens your joint and tendons results in this pain. Rarely, a direct injury to the elbow causes tissue swelling in the tendons.

Diagnosing Tennis Elbow

Your orthopedic doctor diagnoses tennis elbow with a physical exam. Some tests may be performed on your arm in order to see which moves trigger your pain. The doctor might tap on certain places around your arm to see if it activates your symptoms. You may need to have an X-ray in order to rule out other possible causes of your pain, such as a fractured elbow, radius or ulna. Your orthopedic surgeon might order other imaging studies to get a better idea of the damage to your tendon. Some of those studies might include a CT scan, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), or an ultrasound.

Treatments for Tennis Elbow

Rest, ice, compression, and elevation are recommended at-home treatments when you have pain from tennis elbow. You could also do stretching and strengthening exercises. Physical therapy could help you to strengthen the tendons, ligaments and muscles of your arms. Your orthopedic doctor may recommend it if you have mild tennis elbow or to facilitate your recovery if more invasive treatments are needed. Wearing a brace or sling might also help to relieve your pain.

Another option for treating tennis elbow is a steroid injection. Orthopedic doctors inject a corticosteroid into the elbow or directly into the inflamed tendon. The steroid reduces inflammation and swelling, which may put an end to your pain. If a tendon has ruptured, you may need orthopedic surgery to repair it.