Definition. Tennis elbow (aka, lateral epicondylitis) is a painful condition caused by inflammation and/or microtears in the tendons around the lateral epicondyle—a bony prominence outside of the elbow.
Causes. The condition occurs when the elbow is overworked by repetitive wrist twisting and extension (bending back). Despite the name, there are other causes for Tennis Elbow other than being a regular at the Paseo Club. Carpenters, cooks, or film set crew workers can have it because the pain increases with activities such as driving screws, cutting up ingredients, and painting. Tendons are also more prone to breakdown as we age after 40.
Diagnosis. Usually, no special imaging test or blood work is required to make the diagnosis of tennis elbow. Diagnosis is usually made by history and physician examination, but imaging may be ordered for other concerns such as bone fractures.
Treatment. As with many overuse injuries, decreased elbow and wrist activity is preferred over absolute rest and inactivity. Stretching and strengthening exercises taught by your physician and physical therapist might help heal the tendons by increasing blood circulation to the injury while decreasing tightness. Icing the elbow after activity may also decrease inflammation and pain. While anti-inflammatory drugs such as Ibuprofen may decrease inflammation and pain, they do not necessarily heal the injury. If conservative measures are not effective, your physician may recommend a corticosteroid injection to help decrease pain and irritation. Surgery is usually only considered for resistant chronic cases.
Elbow pain can be caused by conditions other than Tennis Elbow, so see your pain or sports physician, especially if rest, ice, and over-the-counter pain relievers do not ease your elbow pain and tenderness.
Dr. John Villanueva is part of an elite group of physicians serving the greater Los Angeles area who are Double Boarded and Certified by the American Board of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation in both his primary specialty and the subspecialty of Pain Medicine. His state of the art premier medical facility—John Villanueva, M.D. Inc. Pain & Spine—is conveniently located at 2121 W. Magnolia Blvd. Suite B, Burbank CA. For an appointment or more information please call us 818-669-8895 and we will be happy to assist you.