A Patient’s Guide to Tennis Elbow

The following information is from the American Society of Hand Therapists and is available as a handout from their website: http://www.asht.org.

What is tennis elbow?

Tennis elbow, also known as lateral epicondylosis, lateral tendinosis, or lateral epicondylitis, is a condition that involves tendons located around the outside of the elbow. These tendons, which anchor muscle to bone, work to extend the wrist or fingers. Over time these tendons degenerate, weakening the attachment site and placing a strain on the muscles.

What are the symptoms of tennis elbow?

Patients complain of pain around their elbow, usually on the bony point just above the outside of the elbow called the lateral epicondyle. The area may be tender to touch. Patients may report weakness and an inability to perform their normal activities of daily living, such as lifting a cup of coffee.

An MRI showing inflammation where the extensor carpi radialis brevis (ECRB) muscle attaches to the bone at the elbow (Image from http://www.orthobullets.com.

What causes tennis elbow?

Many patients diagnosed with tennis elbow have never played tennis at all! Any activity, such as gripping or repeated grasping, can strain the tendon attachment to the lateral epicondyle. The most common age group is between 30-60 years old, although it can occur in younger and older patients.

What is the treatment for tennis elbow?

Conservative (nonsurgical) treatment through a physician can include anti-inflammatory medications and steroid injections into the painful area. A physician can also provide a referral to a qualified hand therapist. Surgery is often only considered if the pain is severe, and/or symptoms have been present for six months or longer.

Epicondylitis brace (http://www.m-brace.com).

What can a hand therapist do for me?

A hand therapist can provide conservative management for the treatment of tennis elbow, with the goal to return the patient back to normal work, home, and sports activities. A therapist can help identify what activities might aggravate symptoms, and discuss activity modifications. A custom-fabricated brace or orthosis for the wrist might be recommended to rest the area. Various treatments can be utilized, such as heat, ice, ultrasound, massage, or electrical stimulation. The therapist will often prescribe stretching and strengthening exercises. Following any surgery for tennis elbow, therapy is important to regain motion and stretch.