Tennis elbow, commonly known as "lateral epicondylitis," is the inflammation of the tendons on forearm muscles outside the elbow. Repeated, strong movement of the forearm like with tennis and other racquet sports, and activities like carpentry, painting, plumbing, and cooking can cause tennis elbow. Symptoms can increase over time and include pain and/or a burning sensation in the elbow area or weakness in gripping something.
Diagnosing Tennis Elbow
Your physician will ask you a series of questions and is likely to do a physical exam. The physical exam will including examining any specific areas of concern, especially as they relate to the reason for your visit to the office.
A form of electromagnetic radiation with very high frequency and energy. X-rays are used to examine and make images of things such as the bones and organs inside the body.
This test uses a magnetic field, radiofrequency pulses, and a computer to produce detailed images of body structures in multiple places. You may be injected with a contrast agent for better imaging, and you will most likely lie on a moving table as pictures are taken. MRI is a more detailed tool than x-ray and ultrasound and for certain organs or areas of the body, it provides better images than CT. MRI may not be recommended if you have a pacemaker or other metal implants.
A single-fiber electromyography measures the electrical energy traveling between the brain and muscles.
Treatments for Tennis Elbow
Sometimes referred to simply as "PT," this is a type of rehabilitative treatment that uses specially designed exercises and equipment to help patients preserve, regain, or improve their physical abilities following injury, disability, disease, or surgery. Physical therapy can include therapeutic exercise, massage, assistive devices, and patient education and training.
Bracing / Splinting
A splint, also known as a brace, is a rigid device that holds a body part in place so that it is unable to move. It is usually used as a treatment for a suspected fracture, sprain/ligament damage, or other injury. It can be applied by first responders in the event of trauma. Splints can reduce pain, aid in proper healing, and can also prevent further injury. They can be worn for several days or weeks to hold the body part in place for the duration of healing time.
Also known as cortisone shots, these are injections that may help relieve pain and inflammation in a specific area of the body. Cortisone shots are most commonly given into joints — such as the ankle, elbow, hip, knee, shoulder, spine, and wrist.
Extracorporeal Shock Wave Therapy
Shock wave therapy sends sound waves to the affected area of the body. These sound waves create "microtrauma" that promote the body's natural healing processes. Shock wave therapy is considered experimental by many doctors, but some sources show it can be effective.
Surgery for Tennis Elbow (lateral epicondylitis)
This type of surgery may be an option for patients whose symptoms do not improve after 6-12 months of nonsurgical treatment. There are different types of surgical procedures for tennis elbow, which involve removing diseased muscle and reattaching healthy muscle back to bone. Based on each individual case, the patient's physician may recommend open surgery (which is the most common approach to tennis elbow repair), or arthroscopic surgery using miniature instruments and small incisions. Both of these options are usually outpatient procedures, with no overnight stay at the hospital. Recover after surgery can include the arm being placed in a splint for a short period of time, followed by rehabilitative exercises to regain flexibility and function of the elbow. Patients should ask their doctor when it is safe to return to athletic activity.