Tennis elbow

This information may be useful for those who have been diagnosed with tennis elbow. People who are experiencing new or ongoing symptoms should contact their healthcare professional. 

Read more about managing an elbow problem

What is Tennis Elbow?

Tennis elbow is a condition which causes pain around the outside bony part of the elbow and down into the forearm. It’s also known as lateral epicondylitis or lateral epicondyle tendinopathy.

The most commonly affected arm is the dominant side.  Tennis elbow is often an overuse injury primarily due to repetitive strain from tasks and activities that involve repeated gripping and movement of the hand. 

The condition is called tennis elbow because it’s a common injury in racquet sports but many other activities can also cause it.

Diagram showing areas of the arm and elbow including bones, muscles and ligaments that are affected by tennis elbow.

Symptoms of Tennis Elbow? 

Tennis elbow causes pain and tenderness on the outside of your elbow that may spread down your forearm.

This can cause: 

  • difficulty with gripping.
  • difficulty with twisting movements such as opening jars.
  • restriction in movement at the elbow.
  • tenderness when touching the area.

What causes Tennis Elbow? 

Tennis elbow symptoms develop when there’s a problem with the tendons around the elbow.  These tendons help lift your hand backwards.   

Activities that involve the use of these tendons can include:

  • gripping
  • writing
  • lifting
  • pulling
  • twisting

Repeated use of the muscles that lift your wrist up can cause changes to the tendon, often due to overloading it. 

Other factors that can affect tendon health include:

Photograph of person holding their elbow

Diagnosis

In order for tennis elbow to be diagnosed you’ll need an assessment from a healthcare professional.

They’ll initially ask you questions about your elbow issue and then carry out a physical examination. This may include checking your range of movement and strength.

You may sometimes need to have a further examination to rule out other possible health conditions.

Treatment for tennis elbow

If your elbow pain is aggravated by certain movements try to reduce these by modifying your activity.  

You can modify your activity by:

  • changing how you grip or lift an object.
  • reducing the weight you are carrying.
  • taking regular breaks while doing aggravating activities.

As well as modifying your activities it’s important to start exercising your elbow.

Read about exercises for tennis elbow

Pain treatments

Pain medication can help you move more comfortably, which can help your recovery.

More about taking painkillers.

Elbow Support 

Some people find an elbow support, sometimes called an epiclasp, can be helpful to manage the pain caused by tennis elbow.

Research suggests they may be useful in the short term but overall there is limited evidence to support their use.

Corticosteroid Injection 

If exercise, modification of activity and painkillers aren’t helping to control the pain, your healthcare professional may discuss the option of having a corticosteroid injection into your elbow. However, current evidence has shown limited benefit for this type of condition and may be detrimental to the health of your tendon.

Corticosteroids are medicines that help reduce pain and inflammation. They may also be given with a local anaesthetic.

Injections won’t cure your condition, they are used to help with the pain.

Read more about corticosteroids

Work

An elbow problem can sometimes mean you need to take some time off work to help recovery. How long you’re off will depend on the nature of your condition and your role at work.

You do not need to be symptom free before you consider returning to work. Continuing to go to work, or returning to work as soon as is possible for you, will help your recovery. Gradually getting back to your normal daily activities can help to build up your strength and stamina levels.

Help and support 

Following this advice, you should see gradual improvements over time.

If your tennis elbow hasn’t improved, or it’s got worse, within 6 weeks of following this advice, it’s a good idea to talk to a healthcare professional about your symptoms.

Read about how to access MSK services 

When dealing with any health condition it’s important to also look after your mental wellbeing as this can impact your recovery.


Source: MSK Expert Panel - Opens in new browser window

Last updated:
15 December 2023