Tennis elbow is a chronic condition that occurs from repetitive overuse of the elbow (1, 2, 3). While the injury is common to tennis players, more than 1 million people develop tennis elbow each year, so it follows that less than 10% of those treated for tennis elbow actually have tennis-related injuries (3). In fact, work-related movements and equipment use are more often the culprit, with tennis elbow comprising over 11% of all work-injury claims (3).
Tennis elbow is such a widespread problem because the condition may not resolve over time, even with conventional treatments. However, there is hope: there are a number of non-surgical functional treatment options called regenerative therapies that are all safe and effective at treating tennis elbow!
But first - what is tennis elbow?
Tennis elbow, also called lateral epicondylitis, occurs when the tendons that roll over the elbow are damaged due to improper form or overuse (1, 2). It is called tennis elbow because it was initially linked to damage to the muscles and tendons of the elbow that is caused by the motion and force of using a tennis racket backhand to hit the tennis ball (2). When a motion is repeated with enough force, it leads to compounded, unhealed microtrauma to the tendon that attaches the forearm muscles to the bony part of the elbow, which causes inflammation and reduced performance (3). The most common causes of tennis elbow include (1, 2, 3, 4):
Repetitive movements in professions involving painting, plumbing, carpentry, butchering, athletics, music, and dentistry
Frequent use of hand-held tools like racquets, chain saws, paint rollers, drills, etc.
Improper form while conducting repetitive movements (such as not using core muscles to stabilize and depending solely on arm muscles or the elbow for force)
Using incorrectly sized or prepared tools or equipment
Weak shoulder or wrist muscles
How do I know if I have tennis elbow?
The main symptoms of tennis elbow include pain, burning, and/or an aching feeling along the outside of the arm and elbow (1, 2). Oftentimes, pain will get worse with time, even while at rest, and may spread down to the wrist. You could experience pain or a weak grip, especially when lifting the arm or holding something relatively small, like a cup or doorknob. Working in any of the industries listed above (or doing any other work or hobbies that require repetitive arm movements) puts you at risk for tennis elbow, along with (3, 4):
Being over the age of 30 (though the risk increases even more after 40)
Larger body mass index
History of rotator cuff disease, de Quervain’s disease, or carpal tunnel syndrome
Not stretching and warming up before repeated use of the arms
Use of some medications, such as certain antibiotics
If you suspect you have tennis elbow, it is certainly worth making an appointment with your doctor to confirm. They may do a physical examination or suggest an X-ray, MRI, or electromyography to look at the bones, tendons, or nerves in order to rule out other conditions and get a good sense of how much damage and inflammation there is to the elbow(s) (2).