Tennis elbow (lateral epicondylitis) is a painful condition when tendons in your elbow are overloaded and become sore from excessive strain, usually by repetitive motions of the wrist and arm. It is characterized by a swelling of the tendons that bend your wrist backward away from your palm.
Despite its name, tennis players and athletes aren’t the only people who develop tennis elbow. People whose jobs feature the types of motions that can lead to tennis elbow include meat cutters, musicians, painters, dentists, carpenters, and others who use hand tools frequently.
The pain of tennis elbow occurs primarily where the tendons of your forearm muscles attach to a bony bump (called the epicondyle) on the outside of your elbow. Pain can also spread into your forearm and wrist. Tennis elbow can affect the dominant or non-dominant arm, or it may affect both arms.
Rest, over-the-counter pain relievers, and conservative treatments often help relieve tennis elbow.
Tennis elbow affects 1% to 3% of the population and, overall, 10% to 50% of tennis players during their careers. Fewer than 5% of tennis elbow diagnoses are related to tennis. It affects men more than women, and most often people between the ages of 30 and 50, although all are susceptible.
The pain associated with tennis elbow may start with pain, burning, or an ache along the outside of your forearm and elbow. Over time, the pain will get worse. If you don’t stop the activity that caused your issue, the pain may spread down to your wrist, even at rest.
Other symptoms include pain that worsens when:
- Shaking hands or gripping objects, such as turning a doorknob or holding a cup of coffee
- Keeping the wrist stiff or moving the wrist with force, such as lifting or using tools or other objects
Tennis elbow symptoms may resemble other medical problems or conditions, so you should see a doctor for a diagnosis if you suspect you have tennis elbow.