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How To Tell If You Have Tennis Elbow

How To Tell If You Have Tennis Elbow
How To Tell If You Have Tennis Elbow

Tennis Elbow A Tendinopathy Of The Elbow

Tennis Elbow is an injury to the tendon tissue that is involved in the activity of extending the wrist and fingers. With Tennis elbow the actual site of injury is around what is termed the lateral epicondyle. The lateral epicondyle is a bony bump positioned on the outside of the elbow where the muscles that extend the wrist and fingers attach in a common tendon.

Symptoms Of Tennis Elbow

Someone suffering with tennis elbow will be primarily bothered by pain. This pain is experienced when performing gripping activities or similar activities involving resistance to wrist and or finger extension movements. Pain with tennis elbow may also be felt when the lateral forearm muscles are stretched or palpated. The site of maximum tenderness is often felt either directly at the lateral epicondyle (that bony bump on the outside of the elbow) or about 1-2 cm down from this bony bump closer to the elbow. With tennis elbow there may also be trigger points present in the muscles of the forearm, making the forearm tender to touch and a site of pain also.
Some individuals may experience neck stiffness and tenderness around the neck and shoulder area as well as signs of nerve irritation extending along that upper limb to the spine. However more commonly the pain is experienced only local to the elbow.
Summary Of Symptoms:

  • Pain when gripping and lifting objects will be felt at the elbow, with the exact location of pain being felt around the bony lump on the outside of the elbow.
  • Elbow pain occurring on one side of the body, however it can affect both arms.
  • Associated neck and shoulder stiffness with nerve irritation of the upper limb can occur with some individuals.
  • Most elbow movements are pain free despite that actually being the painful area but extending (straightening) the elbow can be painful in many individuals.
  • Stretching the forearm muscles may cause pain when performing the action of making a fist with a straight elbow and bending the fingers down towards the floor.

What Is The Cause Of Tennis Elbow?

Like golfer’s elbow which causes a similar pain felt at the inside of the elbow, tennis elbow is a classic repetitive loading injury usually caused by overuse. When you constantly use your arm in a repetitive motion performing activities that strain the muscles around the elbow over and over again can cause tennis elbow. For the record I will state that I have also seem some individuals over the years set off a tennis elbow complaint from directly bumping their lateral epicondyle (that bony bump) on a hard surface and this seemed to start a process of irritation causing them to experience tennis elbow symptoms. Extensor carpi radialis brevis muscle (abbreviated to ECRB) is widely considered to be the main muscle tendon complex involved in tennis elbow despite the pain being felt in what is termed the common extensor tendon.
The tendinopathy may include small tears, inflammation or degeneration of the tendon depending on the stage of the injury. Left untreated, it can become chronic meaning a long term injury, although most symptoms will settle in a matter of weeks it is not uncommon for people to experience ongoing symptoms for months and months.
Generally an acute tennis elbow condition is considered an injury in the first six weeks of onset and it becomes termed a subacute injury at around the 6-12 week mark. The injury will classified as a chronic problem at three months.  As a physiotherapist I have certainly had people come to me having had the problem ongoing for greater than six months or a year and still made a full recovery. So just because you have a “chronic tennis elbow” does not mean you can not be symptom free again.

Disclaimer: Sydney Physio Clinic provides this information as an educational service and is not intended to serve as medical advice. Anyone seeking specific advice or assistance on How To Tell If You Have Tennis Elbow should consult his or her physiotherapist, sports medicine specialist, orthopedic surgeon or otherwise appropriately skilled practitioner.

Hayden Latimer is the founder of and principle physiotherapist at Sydney Physio Clinic. Since graduating from Otago University, Dunedin, New Zealand he’s gained wide experience practicing across the globe for over 15 years and is now extremely knowledgeable in helping people reduce discomfort and restore function and mobility.

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