Skip to main content

Understanding tennis elbow

Find relief for forearm pain, also known as lateral epicondylitis.

Making the same wrist and hand movements over and over again can damage the tissue that connects the muscles and bone in the forearm. That damage, and the pain that comes with it, is tennis elbow (other variants include golfer's elbow).

Despite the common names of this overuse injury, it doesn't only bother athletes, according to Nicholas Sgaglione, MD, senior vice president and executive director of the Northwell Health Orthopaedic Institute. "Also at high risk for tennis elbow are professionals who depend on hand tools, such as painters, plumbers, carpenters, auto mechanics and meat cutters," he said. "Another common cause is heavy, repetitive computer work."

Chronic tennis elbow doesn't mean it's time to find a new career. Proper nonsurgical care, which may include rest, physical therapy or bracing, corrects the condition 80 to 95 percent of the time, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.

Treat tennis elbow

There are three common symptoms of lateral epicondylitis (the technical term for this ailment):

  • Gradually worsening elbow pain
  • Pain that moves from the elbow to the forearm and hand when grasping
  • Weakened grasp with elbow ache

If these sound familiar, your doctor will probably recommend rest. Avoid twisting your forearm, especially while bending your wrist, for several weeks so the connective tissue (tendon) can heal. If a time-out doesn't relieve the pain, your doctor may recommend over-the-counter pain or anti-inflammatory medicine, applying ice packs, bracing, physical therapy, and/or injections of corticosteroid.

If these conservative treatments don't help within six to 12 months, surgery may be the best option. Northwell Health orthopedic surgeons remove damaged tissue and repair the elbow tendon with minimally invasive techniques. Recovery takes about four to six months.

How to prevent tennis elbow or golfer's elbow

After treatment, maintain your wellness. To avoid tennis elbow or golfer's elbow:

  • Maintain proper ergonomic form. Don't repeatedly twist or rotate your forearm, especially with a bent wrist.
  • Take frequent breaks or alternate tasks that do not involve any pushing, pulling or twisting.
  • If you frequently play golf or tennis, consult with a certified athletic trainer to learn how to execute proper technique consistently.

Could you have the yips?

Sometimes things you've done a thousand times get harder, not easier.

If you watch or play sports, you've probably heard of "the yips"- muscle spasms that are notorious for wrecking a golfer's putt, tennis player's swing or baseball player's pitch.

But the yips, also called dystonia, can affect anyone who performs repetitive movements. For example, if you write, type or play a musical instrument, the condition could affect your life.

To correct the yips, The Dystonia Society recommends changing your approach with a different grip, tool or technique. Since anxiety can make yips symptoms worse, relaxation techniques or meditation can help, too.

Find help from the Northwell Health Rehabilitation Network.

For more health and wellness news, subscribe to any Northwell magazine for free. There’s no obligation, and you can opt out at any time.