Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date. This handout provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. 

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Am Fam Physician. 2007;76(6):853

See related article on lateral epicondylitis.

What is tennis elbow?

Tennis elbow is an injury to a tendon in your elbow called the lateral epicondyle (ep-i-KON-dile). This tendon helps you move your wrist and fingers. If you use it too much, you can tear the tendon.

A common symptom is pain when you grip something (for example, when you give a handshake or open doors). Most people with tennis elbow don't have swelling, bruising, or numbness.

What causes tennis elbow?

It can be caused by using your arm the same way over and over. This can happen when you paint, use a hammer, or play racquet sports or golf.

Doing an activity incorrectly (for example, using a racquet that isn't strung right or that has a grip that is too small) can also cause tennis elbow.

How can my doctor tell if I have tennis elbow?

Your doctor usually can tell if you have tennis elbow by examining you. Your doctor may take an x-ray, but it usually isn't needed.

Your doctor may examine your elbow and shoulder to make sure you don't have another problem, such as arthritis or pinched nerves.

How is tennis elbow treated?

Your doctor may wait to see if your pain gets better without treatment.

Medicine, an elbow brace, or physical therapy can help with pain, but it may take weeks or months for the pain to go away completely. Some patients with tennis elbow need surgery.

How can I prevent tennis elbow?

To lower the chances of getting tennis elbow, try to cut down on activities that cause it, and make sure you are doing these activities correctly. Do exercises to stretch and strengthen your arms.

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