Tennis elbow is a condition that causes pain on the outer edge of the elbow. It flares up when you hurt the tendons connecting your elbow to your forearm muscles. The pain often radiates throughout the arm, from your elbow to your wrist. Without treatment, you can have trouble performing even the simplest tasks, such as driving, using a key in a door or opening a jar.
What Is the Cause of Tennis Elbow?
Though it’s often called “tennis elbow,” lateral epicondylitis — the technical name for the condition — impacts people who don’t play tennis, too. It’s caused by overuse and performing an activity over and over and over again. The repetitive motion creates tiny tears in the tendon that result in pain. Many people develop tennis elbow from activities that work the same muscle, such as:
- Fixing things around the house using a screwdriver.
Of course, racket sports can also cause the condition. In tennis, racquetball and squash, you use the same motions to swing the racket over and over. Using the wrong size of equipment can also spark tennis elbow.
Diagnosing Tennis Elbow
When you come to OrthoBethesda, we’ll examine you and discuss your activities and past injuries to determine the cause of your pain. Occasionally, we use X-rays or MRIs to rule out other injuries.
Treatment for Tennis Elbow
You can use a series of treatments to address tennis elbow at home, such as:
- Resting your arm.
- Avoiding activities that worsen the pain in the arm.
- Taking hot baths.
- Applying ice to the affected part of your arm for about 10 to 15 minutes.
- Taking anti-inflammatories or applying an NSAID cream to the area.
- Wearing a counterforce brace for greater support.
Once your pain has started to ease, your doctor may prescribe physical therapy exercises to help you stretch and strengthen the impacted area.
How Long Does It Take to Recover From Tennis Elbow?
It can take weeks, months or years for tennis elbow to heal completely. Recovery time may vary based on a range of factors, such as how bad your pain was to begin with and whether you’ve closely followed your doctor’s orders. The tendon usually heals over a period of six months to a year, but you can feel relief much sooner than that. Still, in some cases, tennis elbow can last for up to two years, even when you keep up with your treatment regimen.
To ensure the injury doesn’t flare up again, you may need to take preventative steps, such as learning a new way to do an activity. You may have to change your grip or adjust your equipment so you don’t reinjure yourself. Warm up properly before exercising to give your tendon time to stretch and become limber. Apply ice after you finish your activity to reduce swelling. Above all, remain patient. Healing takes time.