What Is Tennis Elbow? - Symptoms & Treatment

Instructor: Jeffery Huston
Tennis elbow is a common acute inflammatory condition that occurs in the physically active. In this lesson, you will learn more about the symptoms and treatment associated with tennis elbow.

What Is Tennis Elbow

Every spring medical professionals see similar issues. The long cold winter has given way to a nice warm spring, and many people who have sat behind a desk are eager to get out and have some fun. Some will go out and play tennis over the weekend and will over do it and the next day will wake up with pain in their lateral elbow. This pain will subside over time, but with repeated activity the pain will continue. What exactly is the most common cause of this pain? Tennis elbow, also known as lateral epicondylitis is most often the culprit.

Tennis elbow is an inflammatory condition that occurs in the lateral aspect of the elbow. The muscles that originate in this area are the commonly referred to as the wrist extensors. Tennis elbow is usually an acute or sudden onset condition. Although tennis elbow is an acute condition, if left untreated, it may become a a chronic (long lasting) condition where it goes from an inflammatory condition to a degenerative disorder.

Common Causes

Tennis elbow is caused by what is known as a repeated eccentric load of the muscles that originate on the the lateral epicondyle. When muscles contract they either shorten, a concentric contraction, or the lengthen, an eccentric contraction. An eccentric load is caused when the tension associated with an eccentric contraction occurs. In tennis elbow, the muscles that extend the wrist undergo a repetitive eccentric contraction that causes damage to this muscle group.

Common causes include the repetitive flexion of the wrist during the tennis stroke, or even in the throwing motion. However, it should be noted that one does not have to play tennis to suffer from tennis elbow and the true cause is the repetitive wrist flexion with an eccentric load.

Signs and Symptoms

There are several signs and symptoms that may be present upon physical examination. It is important to note, though, that not ALL of the following must be present:

  • Pain in the elbow in the front of the elbow or just away from the lateral epicondyle (the lateral portion of the humorous where the extensor muscle group originates, this is the boney area on the humerus just above the elbow joint)
  • Pain may radiate into the forearm extensors during and after activity
  • Pain with repetitive motions that activate the wrist extensors
  • Tender to palpate (to the touch) along the wrist extensor group that originates of the lateral epicondyle of the humerus
  • Frequently occurs in individuals 40 years of age and older


Proper diagnosis may include an evaluation of the signs and symptoms as well as orthopedic tests. Various orthopedic tests may indicate tennis elbow if they yield a positive result for either pain or dysfunction.


There are several treatments that have varying levels of success. In order for any of the treatments to be successful, the patient needs to be consistent in their treatment. Initial treatment may include the following:

  • Rest
  • Ice
  • Non-Sterodial Anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)

Rehabilitation may also prescribed and should include the following:

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