What is tennis elbow?

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I'm Dr. Alan Greene and let's talk for a moment about tennis elbow. Tennis elbow is a kind of tendonitis. It's an inflammation and injury to the tendons usually on the outside of the elbow. Tendons are those fibrous bands that connect the muscle into the bone. When those tendons get damaged, as they often can in racquet sports or also in baseball, sometimes over using a screwdriver, a lot of ways you can do it, we typically call it tennis elbow or tendonitis.

How do you prevent it? When you are playing tennis one of the most important things is to avoid putting too much stress on that tendon on the outside of the elbow. The problem usually comes with your backhand. So if you do a two-handed backhand, you can greatly reduce the stress. You can also reduce the stress by using a racquet that has the right size grip for your hand. Don't play with somebody else's racquet very often. And make sure the strings are not over tightened. It puts too much stress when the ball hits suddenly with over tightened strings. If you have a tendency to get tennis elbow, it could also be very useful immediately after playing to ice the elbow and take some ibuprofen to prevent swelling and inflammation.

Now, if you do develop tennis elbow how do you treat it? It comes down to a combination of rest, ice, compression, and elevation. In terms of rest, you want to completely rest your elbow for at least a couple of days and really for as long as it is still sore. In terms of ice that first day, ice very frequently. It's great even every 15 minutes to have an ice pack on there briefly and for the next couple of days, at least every 3 or 4 hours if you can. It will help speed the healing. Wearing a bandage on there to help support the elbow is good. It can also be good when you are playing tennis to help prevent tennis elbow. The wrap on there can help support the elbow and keep it warm and make it less likely to injure. And finally when you are having the severe pain at the beginning especially, keeping your elbow elevated above your heart can help as well and hopefully this will get you back out and physically active again very quickly.

What is tennis elbow?

Version Info

  • Last reviewed on 9/18/2011
  • David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

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