Tennis Elbow Symptoms or Something Else? Painful Signs to Watch Out For

woman playing tennis

It’s mesmerizing to watch tennis superstars out on the court, from their incredible agility to their powerful swings. Unfortunately, about half of all athletes in racquet sports will develop tennis elbow symptoms at some point in their careers.

Lateral epicondylitis, aka tennis elbow, is a painful condition caused by the overuse of the forearm muscles and tendons, but it’s not just people swinging a racquet who experience this type of tendonitis of the elbow.

Many people who make repetitive motions during everyday activities—like raking, knitting, shoveling snow, or even playing the violin—can cause microscopic tears in the tendon, leading to inflammation and pain.

Read on to learn more about the causes of this type of elbow pain, tennis elbow symptoms to watch for, and available treatment options for getting you back into the swing of things.

Tennis Elbow Symptoms

People ages 30–50 are most at risk of experiencing tennis elbow symptoms, particularly if they work a job or have a hobby that requires repetitive motion like raking, painting, cooking, plumbing, or working on cars.

Common Signs of Elbow Tendonitis

  • Burning or aching on the side of your elbow when grasping or lifting objects
  • Pain when lifting even a light object, like a coffee cup or book
  • Discomfort when extending or straightening your elbow in the morning
  • Pain when grasping or carrying an object with your arm extended
  • Pain when picking up an object with your palm facing down
  • Tenderness on and around the bony part of the outside of your elbow

If you have any of the above signs of tennis elbow that aren’t getting better and are affecting your daily life or if you see a bulge or lump on your arm, it’s time to see an elbow specialist.

How to Prevent Tennis Elbow

There are some things you can do to keep tennis elbow symptoms from developing in the first place. These preventative measures include:

  • Keeping your arm muscles flexible and strong
  • Limiting the repetitive movements listed above
  • Warming up before workouts or sports 
  • Making sure you have the proper equipment if you play a racquet sport
  • Increasing new activities slowly

Typical Tennis Elbow Treatment Options

A doctor can usually diagnose your tennis elbow symptoms during a physical exam.

Sometimes, they’ll want to do additional tests, such as:

  • An X-ray to look at the bones of your elbow and check for arthritis
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to see how severe the damage to your tendons is
  • Electromyography (EMG) of your elbow to see if you have any nerve problems that could be causing your pain

Non-Surgical Treatments for Tennis Elbow

Nine times out of ten, your tennis elbow symptoms will improve on their own by stopping the activities that were aggravating your symptoms. Pain medications are rarely needed, though your doctor may recommend acetaminophen (e.g., Tylenol) or anti-inflammatory medication for pain relief.

If your elbow pain isn’t getting better with rest alone, your doctor may recommend additional treatment options, such as:

  • Wrist splint or forearm strap to support the muscles and tendons
  • Ice pack on the area to reduce inflammation
  • Strengthening and stretching exercises
  • Bracing the area to keep it still for a few weeks or use of a special brace with activities
  • Steroid injections to help reduce swelling and pain
  • Ultrasounds that break up scar tissue and increase blood flow

When Surgery Is Needed for Treating Elbow Tendonitis

While rare, some people suffer from persistent tennis elbow symptoms and unrelenting pain that doesn’t respond to non-surgical treatments after nine to 12 months. In those cases, surgery might be recommended.

Surgery to treat the signs of tennis elbow can be done under regional or general anesthesia and involves removing the diseased tissue by making a small incision on the side of the elbow.

For lateral tennis elbow, arthroscopic surgery is an option, particularly if there is any concern about problems within the elbow joint itself.

Rehab and Recovery After Surgery

After surgery, you may be immobilized for about seven to ten days. At that time, sutures and the splint are removed, and you’ll begin to do some light, gradual strengthening exercises.

It can take four to six months after surgery until you can safely return to those vigorous, repetitive activities. The outcomes for patients who have surgery for tennis elbow symptoms are considered good or excellent in 80% to 90% of patients.

Get Relief for Elbow Pain

You don’t have to live with elbow pain and discomfort. Our elbow specialists can help you find answers and relief from your tennis elbow symptoms.

Schedule an appointment online
Or call (317) 754-0814

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