Lateral epicondylitis, also referred to as “tennis elbow,” is one of the most common repetitive stress injuries we see here at our orthopedic clinic. One of the first signs you may have tennis elbow is a feeling of discomfort and weakness in the outer part of your elbow when shaking hands, turning a doorknob, holding a mug of coffee, or other everyday activities that involve flexing and twisting your forearm.
In our experience, most cases of tennis elbow have nothing to do with tennis. Certain hobbies and jobs that involve repetitive wrist and arm motion — including computer work — are more likely to be the cause. But, ever since a British surgeon used the term “lawn tennis arm” in 1882, the name has stuck. In the present day, any of the following names would be equally suitable for lateral epicondylitis:
Paint brush elbow
Computer mouse elbow
Assembly line elbow
But we’ll just stick with tennis elbow for now.
So how do you treat tennis elbow? For most people, the simple answer is rest. Ice, compression, and anti-inflammatories can help relieve symptoms until the condition has improved, which for most people will be a few weeks but could be longer, depending on a lot of factors. To avoid another flare-up when you’re ready to return to your activity, hobby, or job, you will likely need to modify your technique, correct your form, use a more suitable tool, or improve your workspace ergonomics.
If your elbow pain persists, or returns, or you’ve simply been “working through the pain” for way too long, it’s probably time to consult an orthopedic specialist for a qualified diagnosis and to rule out other possible causes, such as cervical radiculopathy. For tennis elbow, your doctor will create an individualized treatment plan, which may include specific stretching and strengthening exercises, a counterforce brace, and/or a referral to an occupational hand therapist.
If you are one of the few patients who do not benefit from conservative methods of treatment and your condition becomes seriously painful and debilitating, a more invasive treatment such as a therapeutic injection or surgery may be required. A relatively new and safe procedure called platelet-rich plasma therapy is becoming a more popular alternative for patients with chronic lateral epicondylitis and other types of joint problems.