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Tennis Elbow


What is tennis elbow?

Tennis elbow is inflammation of the tendons in your elbow. Tendons are strong tissues that connect muscle to bone.

What causes tennis elbow?

Tennis elbow is caused by overuse of the muscles in your forearm. These muscles are used to straighten your arm or lift your hand and wrist. Fast, repeated arm movements can lead to inflammation and small tears in your tendon. Tennis, painting, and manual labor are common activities that can cause tennis elbow.

What are the signs and symptoms of tennis elbow?

  • Pain on the side of your elbow that travels to your upper arm, forearm, or fingers
  • Weakness in your wrist or hand
  • Trouble holding, lifting, or grabbing an object, such as a coffee cup
  • Red, swollen, or warm skin on the outside of your elbow

How is tennis elbow diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will feel around your elbow to check for painful areas. He will check the movement of your elbow, wrist, and fingers. An x-ray, ultrasound, or MRI may show tendon damage. You may be given contrast liquid to help the tendons show up better in the pictures. Tell the healthcare provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast liquid. Do not enter the MRI room with anything metal. Metal can cause serious injury. Tell the healthcare provider if you have any metal in or on your body.

How is tennis elbow treated?

  • Support devices may be needed to limit your arm movement. Examples include an arm strap, brace, or splint. These devices also help decrease pain and prevent more damage to your tendon.
  • Acetaminophen decreases pain and fever. It is available without a doctor's order. Ask how much to take and how often to take it. Follow directions. Read the labels of all other medicines you are using to see if they also contain acetaminophen, or ask your doctor or pharmacist. Acetaminophen can cause liver damage if not taken correctly. Do not use more than 4 grams (4,000 milligrams) total of acetaminophen in one day.
  • NSAIDs , such as ibuprofen, help decrease swelling, pain, and fever. This medicine is available with or without a doctor's order. NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding or kidney problems in certain people. If you take blood thinner medicine, always ask your healthcare provider if NSAIDs are safe for you. Always read the medicine label and follow directions.
  • A steroid injection will help decrease pain and swelling.
  • Physical therapy may be recommended. A physical therapist teaches you exercises to help improve movement and strength, and to decrease pain.
  • Surgery may be needed if your symptoms do not improve with other treatments. During surgery, your healthcare provider will remove any damaged tissue. He may also cut your tendon and reattach it.

How can I manage my symptoms?

  • Rest your injured arm and avoid activities that cause pain. This will help your tendons heal.
  • Apply ice on your elbow for 15 to 20 minutes every hour or as directed. Use an ice pack, or put crushed ice in a plastic bag. Cover it with a towel before you apply it to your skin. Ice helps prevent tissue damage and decreases swelling and pain.
  • Elevate your elbow above the level of your heart as often as you can. This will help decrease swelling and pain. Prop your elbow on pillows or blankets to keep it elevated comfortably.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • You suddenly have no feeling in your arm, hand, or fingers.
  • You suddenly cannot move your arm, wrist, hand, or fingers.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • Your symptoms do not get better within 2 weeks, even with treatment.
  • You have more pain or weakness in your arm, wrist, hand, or fingers.
  • You have new numbness or tingling in your arm, hand, or fingers.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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