Tennis Elbow (Lateral Epicondylitis)

Medically Reviewed on 11/14/2023

What is tennis elbow?

Tennis elbow symptoms
Tennis elbow is inflammation of the tendon at the outer portion of the elbow, leading to pain.

Tennis elbow is inflammation of the tendon at the outer portion of the elbow, leading to pain. Classically, the tennis elbow is a strain injury to this tendon from hitting a backhand shot at tennis. The medical term for tennis elbow is lateral epicondylitis because it involves inflammation at the insertion point of the tendon at the outer portion of the humerus bone at the elbow joint (the epicondyle). Most people with lateral epicondylitis actually acquire it from activities other than playing tennis.

In contrast, when the tendon that attaches at the inner portion of the elbow is inflamed, the condition is referred to as medial epicondylitis (or "golfer's elbow" because golfers commonly injure this area after striking the ground to take a deep divot).

What causes tennis elbow?

A strain injury to the tendon at the outer portion of the elbow causes tennis elbow. While this can occur by straining during a backhand tennis shot, it can also occur from many repetitive activities that can strain the elbow, such as:

  • using a screwdriver or work that includes similar motions,
  • Frisbee disc throwing, and
  • lifting objects by extending the wrist, etc.

Risks of tennis elbow include any activity that can strain the elbow joint. Such activities include tennis, falling onto the extended upper extremity, using a screwdriver when unaccustomed, casting a fishing net, etc.

What are symptoms of tennis elbow?

Symptoms of tennis elbow include:

  • Dull pain and tenderness at the outer elbow.
  • There can be elbow stiffness and a sensation of weakness.
  • Typically, with tennis elbow, people retain the full range of motion of the elbow and there is no significant swelling or discoloration.
  • Holding a beverage cup or shaking hands can bring on pain.

Diagnosis of tennis elbow

  • Physicians diagnose tennis elbow based on the history of outer elbow pain and tenderness, often with recent repetitive-use injury.
  • Tenderness at the outer elbow with normal range of motion of the elbow joint assures the diagnosis.
  • Generally, no radiology testing is necessary.
  • MRI scanning can illustrate inflammation of the outer elbow.

What is the treatment for tennis elbow?

What is the fastest way to cure tennis elbow?

  • Resting the elbow and employing measures to reduce the local inflammation are effective treatments for tennis elbow.
  • Cold application several times daily and anti-inflammatory medications (such as ibuprofen [Advil, Motrin] or naproxen [Aleve]) can be helpful.
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Your doctor may recommend applying topical NSAIDs on the affected area for your tennis elbow. If there is only a mild relief, they can prescribe you anti-inflammatory drugs, such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen.
  • Physical therapy and rehabilitation exercises for the elbow guided by therapists can be helpful for persisting pain and inflammation.
  • For tennis elbow resistant to these measures, local cortisone injection can be beneficial.
  • Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injections is blood plasma rich in platelets. The injection can hasten the healing process concerning the tennis elbow.
  • Shockwave therapy involves passing high-energy sound waves through the skin to help alleviate pain and improve movement in the affected area. You may be advised multiple sessions depending on the severity of your pain.
  • Rarely, surgical repair of the injured tendon is considered. The surgery for the tennis elbow involves cutting the affected tendon.


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What is the prognosis for tennis elbow?

How do I get rid of tennis elbow?

Tennis elbow most often has a complete recovery with conservative measures, particularly by resting the joint and avoiding reinjury.

Tennis elbow is a self-limiting condition, typically lasting for 6 months to 2 years. Most people will fully recover within a year. However, repeated trauma or insufficient rest may aggravate the condition.

Make sure to warm up and stretch often, analyze which movements tend to hurt more, and try to avoid them as far as possible.

Is it possible to prevent tennis elbow?

Avoiding strain injury of the elbow joint can prevent tennis elbow. Tennis players can benefit from proper instruction in hitting techniques. Tennis elbow straps can be used to minimize the risk of injury to the elbow tendons.

Exercises that strengthen the involved muscles can be helpful to avoid a reoccurrence once symptoms have disappeared.

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Medically Reviewed on 11/14/2023
Klippel, J.H., et al. Primer on the Rheumatic Diseases. New York: Springer.

Walrod BJ. Lateral Epicondylitis (Tennis Elbow). Medscape.

Johns Hopkins Medicine. Lateral Epicondylitis.

American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons. Tennis Elbow.