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Tennis or Golfer’s Elbow

man with tennis elbow pain

Overuse of the forearm muscles and repetitive motions can cause small tears in the tendons, which can result in pain and irritation where the tendon meets the bone.

When that pain occurs on the outside of the elbow, it’s called tennis elbow or epicondylitis. When it occurs on the inside, it’s called golfer’s elbow or medial epicondylitis.

Patients don’t have to be an athlete to develop tennis or golfer’s elbow; people who do repetitive jobs, such as painting or assembly line work, are also at risk.

  • Symptoms

    Symptoms of both tennis and golfer’s elbow:

    • Pain when straightening or flexing the wrist
    • Radiating pain
    • Stiffness
    • Tenderness
    • Weak grasp

    Tennis elbow:

    • Elbow pain on the outside of the elbow and forearm to the back of the hand

    Golfer’s elbow:

    • Elbow pain on the inside of the forearm to the wrist
  • Prevention

    • During sports activity, use the correct form and the right equipment.
    • Workspaces should be set up to minimize strain on the elbows.
    • Stop the activity if pain is experienced.
    • Stretch before exercise to ensure elbow muscles are warm and pliable.
    • Vary tasks or motions to avoid muscle and tendon tears.
  • Risk factors

    • Repetitive typing and keyboard use
    • Sports or activities that require repetitive gripping, such as golf, tennis, weightlifting and baseball
    • Work that requires repeated twisting of the wrist, such as construction, assembly-line work, painting or computer work
  • Diagnosis

    • Medical history and symptom review. The healthcare provider will review the patient’s lifestyle, symptoms and previous injuries, and discuss treatments the patient has already tried.
    • Physical examination. The healthcare provider will have the patient move his or her hand, fingers and wrist. He or she may gently press on the tendons on the inside or outside of the elbow, as well as ask the patient to bend the wrist.
    • Imaging tests. The healthcare provider may order an X-ray or MRI to confirm the diagnosis of golfer’s or tennis elbow.
  • Treatment

    • Conservative treatments such as RICE (rest, ice, compression and elevation) and modifying activity levels
    • Elbow bracing or splinting
    • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), such as ibuprofen or aspirin
    • Physical therapy
    • Corticosteroid injections
    • Surgery, which most healthcare providers will only recommend if pain has not improved after six to 12 months
  • Follow-up care

    • Surgery is often performed on an outpatient basis.
    • Patients can use an ice pack to reduce swelling.
    • Prescription or over-the-counter pain medications can be used.
    • Physical therapy can help strengthen the arm and reduce the risk for tennis or golfer’s elbow to return.
    • Recovery can take several months.