Tennis elbow (lateral epicondylitis) is a painful condition that occurs when tendons in your elbow are overloaded, usually by repetitive motions of the wrist and arm.

Despite its name, athletes aren't the only people who develop tennis elbow. People whose jobs feature the types of motions that can lead to tennis elbow include plumbers, painters, carpenters and butchers.

Symptoms

  • Pain slowly increasing around the outside of the elbow.  In some cases, pain may develop suddenly
  • Pain is worse when shaking hands or squeezing objects.
  • Pain is worse by stabilising or moving the wrist with force (lifting, using tools, opening jars)

Causes
Tennis elbow is an overuse and muscle strain injury. The cause is repeated contraction of the forearm muscles that you use to straighten and raise your hand and wrist.

The repeated motions and stress to the tissue may result in a series of tiny tears in the tendons that attach the forearm muscles to the bony prominence at the outside of your elbow.

As the name suggests, playing tennis — especially repeated use of the backhand stroke with poor technique — is one possible cause of tennis elbow.

However, many other common arm motions can cause tennis elbow, including:

  • Using plumbing tools
  • Painting
  • Driving screws
  • Cutting up cooking ingredients, particularly meat
  • Repetitive computer mouse use
  • Diagnosis

In many cases, your medical history and the physical exam provide enough information for your doctor to make a diagnosis of tennis elbow. But if your doctor suspects that something else may be causing your symptoms, he or she may suggest X-rays or other types of imaging tests.

Therapy
If your symptoms are related to tennis, your doctor may suggest that experts evaluate your tennis technique or the movements involved with your job tasks to determine the best steps to reduce stress on your injured tissue.

A physical therapist can teach you exercises to gradually stretch and strengthen your muscles, especially the muscles of your forearm. Eccentric exercises, which involve lowering your wrist very slowly after raising it, are particularly helpful.

  •  Icing the elbow to reduce pain and swelling
  • Using an elbow strap to protect the injured tendon from further strain
  • Taking painkillers such as paracetamol or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs ( NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen and aspirin to help with pain and swelling. However, NASIDs can cause side effects such as stomach irritation so you should only use them as short courses, guided by your family doctor or specialist
  • Performing range of movement exercises to reduce stiffness and increase flexibility.

Most of the time, these treatments will do the trick. But if you have a severe case of tennis elbow that doesn't respond to treatment within two to four months, you may need surgery. With surgery, the damaged section of tendon usually is released and the remaining tendon may be repaired.

Occasionally people with tennis elbow eventually need this treatment. Surgery is estimated to work in 80%-90% of cases. Rehabilitation exercises are crucial to recovery.