Known in medical terms as lateral epicondylitis, tennis elbow is a common condition among athletes and non-athletes caused by the overuse of the tendons connecting the muscles that control the wrist and fingers to the elbow.
This injury results from repetitive forearm and elbow movements that are typical for sports involving the use of racquets. Despite its name, this condition also affects athletes whose activity involves frequent overarm movements, such as baseball, football, basketball, and swimming, to name a few.
The elbow joint functions similarly to a hinge, with the ligaments and tendons helping maintain its stability. Since muscles that we regularly use connect to the elbow by the tendons, this makes the area prone to injuries through overuse.
The repeated motions of the elbow impacted by the force of the sport or activity can produce microscopic tears in the tendon, causing sensations of stiffness and pain. Over time the continuous friction of muscle and tendon against the elbow leads to wear and tear.
While the resulting injury is distinguished by inflammation in the tendon, physicians consider that the condition is degenerative in nature due to its progressive manner of development. The injured area experiences a reduction in blood circulation as scar tissue forms, which isn't conducive to healing. The weakened tissue and continued tendon deterioration amplify stiffness and pain in the elbow.
Since the development of the condition is gradual, most patients don't usually seek treatment until the adverse effects start to impact their regular activities or athletic ability. By this point, the unaddressed injury has already advanced to a stage where treatment and rest are required.
Depending on the level of damage sustained, treatment for tennis elbow can range from non-invasive options such as RICE (short for Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation), physical therapy, and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications to more intrusive procedures such as Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injections or surgery.
It should be noted that athletic activities are not the only cause of tennis elbow. The condition can result from or be exacerbated by other types of repetitive occupational or recreational activities, including carpentry, plumbing, construction work, painting, and playing a musical instrument.
A proper diagnosis of the symptoms is recommended if you experience sensations of pain and stiffness following extended effort involving strong repetitive motions of the elbow and forearm.