Tennis Elbow: Diagnosis and Treatment

Tennis Elbow: Diagnosis and Treatment

Pain in your elbow is commonplace, but when it doesn’t go away or becomes more severe, it may indicate tennis elbow. And although tennis players often get the condition (hence the name) due to the strain they put on muscles in the elbow, it can happen to anyone.  

In this guide, we explain what tennis elbow is, the symptoms of the condition, how doctors diagnose it and the available treatment options. Learn all you need to know about tennis elbow diagnosis and treatment with The Horder Centre.  

What is tennis elbow?

Tennis elbow, or lateral epicondylitis, is inflammation of your elbow’s outer side. 

Repetitive strain is the standard cause of tennis elbow. If you perform a repetitive movement with your hand or wrist, strain can occur in your elbow and cause tiny tears and inflammation, leading to tennis elbow. 

Sometimes, tennis elbow will get better without treatment. In others, it can worsen and need surgical intervention. 

Tennis elbow symptoms and diagnosis 

The main symptom of tennis elbow is pain and tenderness on the outside of your elbow.

However, you can also develop pain in your forearm and the back of your hand. Another symptom that can develop is stiffness, particularly when fully extending your arm. 

Tennis elbow pain may be mild and only felt when using your elbow. However, it can become severe and cause discomfort even when resting. You can also feel tenderness when touching the bony part of your elbow. 

With tennis elbow, you will usually feel pain when: 

  • Performing activities where you grip small items, such as writing with a pen 
  • Twisting your forearm to complete activities like using a door handle or opening a jar 

If you feel pain inside your elbow, it’s more likely to be a golfer’s elbow (medial epicondylitis), which needs a different treatment. 

How long does tennis elbow last? 

Tennis elbow lasts anywhere from six months to two years. However, it could last longer without treatment, so it’s crucial to speak to a doctor about your tennis elbow symptoms. 

Diagnosing tennis elbow

Talk to a doctor if you’re experiencing pain in your elbow. They will assess your elbow for tenderness and swelling and ask about your lifestyle to check for repetitive activities.

They may also ask you to complete specific movements or stretches to see how motion increases or decreases pain or discomfort. These exercises can include flexing your wrist or stretching out your arm.

Your doctor may arrange for ultrasound or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans if they suspect nerve damage. 

Elbow arthroscopy

An elbow arthroscopy can also diagnose tennis elbow. This keyhole surgery allows a surgeon to see inside your elbow and confirm the cause of your pain. They insert a thin tube with a camera on one end through small incisions near your elbow. The camera relays images to a screen, so the surgeon can fully view your elbow without opening it up completely. 

Elbow Arthroscopy

An elbow arthroscopy may be recommended to investigate or treat a number of issues within the elbow joint, or to diagnose the cause of pain in your hand or arm, such as tennis elbow, stiffness caused by arthritic conditions or an injury.

Tennis elbow treatment options 

Tennis elbow doesn’t always need treatment, as it can sometimes go away alone. When mild, you can manage tennis elbow with at-home remedies. However, if it worsens, you may need surgery to correct it.  

Non-surgical treatment options

A range of non-surgical management options can help alleviate tennis elbow pain. 

At-home remedies include holding a cold compress against your elbow for a few minutes several times a day to ease the pain.  

Another option is over-the-counter pain relief medications like paracetamol and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). NSAIDs can reduce inflammation, which is the underlying cause of tennis elbow.  

Your doctor may also advise you to change your repetitive activities to prevent worsening the condition. You may need to avoid these activities until your elbow improves or completely change how you perform them to reduce strain.    

If at-home remedies do not work, then physiotherapy may help. Physiotherapy includes massaging and strengthening the elbow to reduce inflammation and increase your arm’s range of movement. A physio may also give you exercises to complete that help strengthen your forearm muscles and improve your arm mobility.   

Steroid injections are another treatment that doctors can use when other approaches haven’t worked. Steroid injections contain synthetic cortisol (a hormone your body naturally produces).  

When injected into your elbow, steroids can provide short-term pain relief. If steroid injections work well for you, you will usually need them at regular intervals, such as every three to six months.   

Surgical treatment options 

Tennis elbow can sometimes be severe and non-surgical options may not be enough to provide relief. 

An elbow arthroscopy can treat and diagnose tennis elbow. During an arthroscopy, the surgeon passes instruments through the small incisions made to repair or remove torn tissue or tendons. This procedure can alleviate stiffness and pain in the joint. 

Surgeons carry out elbow arthroscopies under a general anaesthetic so that you will be asleep throughout. It takes around 30 minutes to complete and you can often go home on the same day.  

It can take several weeks to return to your regular activities, as your elbow needs time to heal.  

tennis elbow blog

Prevention and lifestyle modifications 

As with any health condition, prevention is the best cure. Actively working to prevent tennis elbow is vital and is possible with a few lifestyle modifications. 

Some of the ways you might prevent tennis elbow include: 

  • Warm up and stretch your arm muscles before playing sports or engaging in repetitive movements 
  • Use lightweight tools wherever possible  
  • Try to use a wider grip (for example, use thicker pens) 
  • Stop activities that are causing elbow pain  
  • Take regular breaks during repetitive activities 
  • Find new ways of performing repetitive tasks 
  • Build up the muscles in your forearms to support your elbow  

Preventing tennis elbow is not always possible, but taking precautions and being proactive can make all the difference. 

Recovery and rehabilitation 

Sometimes the tennis elbow goes away independently, but you must still support your recovery to help it return to normal. You will typically have a longer recovery and rehabilitation if surgery treats your tennis elbow.    

Here is a timeline of what your recovery and rehabilitation may look like after surgical tennis elbow treatment:  

  • Week one to two – Perform gentle exercises provided by your physiotherapist. You may need to wear a sling or brace. No lifting. 
  • Week three –  You no longer need to wear a sling and will start increasing your exercises to re-establish a full range of movement in your arm and shoulder. You still cannot lift anything, as this can damage your recovery. 
  • Week four – Only perform light exercises and activities as your surgeon and physiotherapist agreed. 
  • Week six – You can perform regular light daily activities but avoid heavy lifting. Continue with exercises and stretches.
  • Week twelve to sixteen – You can begin to return to sports and lifting gradually. However, it can take up to one year to fully recover.    

Book a consultation with The Horder Centre

Tennis elbow, although painful, is manageable and treatable.  

At The Horder Centre, we offer accurate medical diagnostics and effective treatments for tennis elbow. We’re dedicated to providing you with the relief and support you need to overcome tennis elbow and return to doing what you love.  

If you’re experiencing elbow pain, contact our team. We’ll help get to the root cause of your pain and provide a personalised treatment and rehabilitation plan. 

What makes Horder Healthcare unique

Horder Healthcare is committed to providing the very best quality of care for our patients and customers. We are continuously working on improving and reducing risks and this is reflected in our consistently high CQC results, patient satisfaction questionnaires and minimal levels of infection.

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