Playing tennis this spring? What you need to know about tennis elbow

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Now that it is officially spring and summer is on its way, tennis and other racquet sports gain a lot of popularity; not only for high school athletes, but adults looking to exercise as well. It’s the perfect exercise to build cardio endurance and strength conditioning. However, like any sport, tennis also comes with a variety of potential injuries.

Tennis elbow, or lateral epicondylitis, is a painful condition of the elbow caused by overuse. Like its name would suggest, playing tennis and other racquet sports can cause this condition. However, several other sports and activities can also put you at risk.

Tennis elbow is an inflammation of the tendons that join the forearm muscles on the outside of the elbow. The forearm muscles and tendons become damaged from repeating the same motions again and again. This leads to pain and tenderness on the outside of the elbow.

“The pain is near the boney bump on the outer aspect of the elbow,” said Dr. Andrew Vicar, sports medicine specialist at OrthoIndy. “There can be several causes of tennis elbow, the most obvious being repetitive use like while playing tennis, but causes also include repetitive weight lifting or lifting objects at work. Trauma, such as bumping it on a doorway or a fall, can cause tennis elbow as well.”

Typically no X-rays, blood work or MRI’s are needed to make a diagnosis. “During a physical exam I check to see if the patient experiences pain when I press on the area about one inch from the boney bump,” said Dr. Vicar. “I may ask the patient to raise her or his arm up toward the ceiling against resistance to see if the pain increases at the lateral elbow. Sometimes pain will radiate down to the wrist which is a clear indication of tennis elbow.”

There are several treatment options for tennis elbow. According to Dr. Vicar, sometimes all that is needed is rest, ice or anti-inflammatory medication such as Advil. Some people may buy an elbow band or support which are available at most drug stores. In extreme cases, your sports medicine specialist may suggest physical therapy or a cortisone injection.

“Ninety percent of patients will eventually get better, but 10 percent of patients need a minor operation,” said Dr. Vicar. “When surgery is needed, the problem is usually a partially torn tendon that can be repaired during surgery.”

Recovery from tennis elbow usually takes three to six weeks depending on the severity of the case.

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