Tennis Elbow

What is tennis and golfer's elbow?

Tennis and golfer's elbow are both painful conditions that most commonly result from overuse or repetitive stress to the tendons of the elbow. Tennis elbow, which is also called lateral epicondylitis, occurs in the outer part of the elbow. Golfer's elbow, also called medial epicondylitis, involves the tendons on the inner side of the elbow where the forearm muscles connect. Both conditions lead to pain around the bony prominences of the elbow. This pain is exacerbated by lifting or gripping activities. 

Many athletes experience these conditions due to poor technique when swinging a racquet or club. Occupational activities can also be a cause. However, in many cases, there is no identifiable reason for the condition to occur. Fortunately, most cases can be treated with conservative measures, but some may require surgery. The elbow specialists at Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush Hand, Wrist & Elbow Institute in Chicago offer prompt, detailed treatment plans that are individualized for care. These physicians perform surgery at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, and Rush Oak Park Hospital.

What are the symptoms of tennis elbow and golfer's elbow?

Symptoms of tennis and golfer's elbow include:

  • Pain on the outer elbow (tennis elbow)
  • Pain on the inner elbow (golfer's elbow)
  • Pain that starts near the elbow bone but can radiate down the forearm
  • Pain that may start suddenly or gradually
  • Weakness of grip
  • Pain with elbow movement

If these symptoms do not dissipate with ice and over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication, such as ibuprofen, consult the hand, wrist and elbow physicians at Midwest Orthopedics at Rush, one of the top orthopedics groups in the state, for a detailed analysis of the problem. Patients should seek immediate care if there is redness, swelling, immobility or fever as this can indicate a different problem or condition.

What causes tennis elbow and golfer's elbow?

Common causes may include:

  • Racquet sports (although this is less common than the name implies)
  • Repetitive activity, such as painting walls or cutting food with dull knives
  • Using tools that require hand force, such as wrenches or pliers
  • Activities that require grasping and squeezing

How are tennis elbow and golfer's elbow diagnosed?

The diagnosis of tennis and golfer's elbow is done through a careful history and thorough examination. Some cases may require imaging, such as an X-ray or MRI.

What are the treatments for tennis elbow and golfer's elbow?

Non-surgical Treatment Options

Tennis elbow and golfer's elbow treatments include:

  • Ice on the elbow
  • Education and activity modification
  • The use of an elbow brace (less commonly a wrist brace
  • Over-the-counter pain relievers such as Ibuprofen
  • Stretching exercises
  • Specific strengthening exercises
  • Therapy modalities
  • Cortisone injections

Surgical Treatment Options

If symptoms don't improve, an elbow specialist may recommend surgery to remove damaged tissue. Surgery can be performed through a traditional open incision or with newer methods using minimally invasive technology through several small incisions. Surgical strategies commonly used to treat tennis elbow and golfer's elbow include:

  • Debriding: This involves cleaning or removing the damaged tissues thought to be responsible for the pain to allow healthy tissue to grow and heal properly.
  • Tendon Repair: Suturing the normal tissue to facilitate healing.