What causes tennis elbow and golfer's elbow?

Tennis or golfer's elbow is inflammation or soreness over the elbow, specifically on the lateral or outside area. It is caused by repetitive motions that stress the muscles and tendons that attach to the bone in this area. Tennis players and golfers are prone to this injury because they consistently repeat the same motions in their arms and wrists, but it can occur in anyone who uses their arms in a repetitive manner.

Jara Soost , NASM Elite Trainer
Athletic Training Specialist

The muscles that move your wrist and fingers are attatched at your elbow.  Repetitive movements of these joints can cause overuse injuries such as tendonitis.  Tennis and golf are just some of the motions that can be associated with this tendonitis.

Bending your wrist backward while swinging the racquet can cause tennis elbow, which is inflammation of a tendon.

Tennis elbow is a common injury that involves the outer part of the elbow. But most people that get it don't play tennis or any other racquet sport. It's often caused by doing the same type of activity over and over (overuse). This might be manual labor or playing a racquet sport. Tennis elbow might also be caused by simply doing daily activities at home, like chores.

Tennis elbow is usually a long-term (chronic) overuse injury. At first, when someone develops more sudden (acute) tennis elbow, there is some inflammation within days or weeks. As the body tries to heal itself, the tendon can become thick. That can cause pain known as “tendonitis” or “tendinopathy.” As time goes on, the tendon becomes thick and wears away (degenerates). Note: tennis elbow does not always involving  inflammation of the tendon, or tendonitis.

Trinity Health is a Catholic health care organization that acts in accordance with the Catholic tradition and does not condone or support all practices covered in this site. In case of emergency call 911. This site is educational and not a substitute for professional medical advice, always seek the advice of a qualified health care provider.

Rick Olderman
Physical Therapy Specialist

Nothing in the body works in isolation. This holds true for tennis and golfer's elbow. Often elbow pain is a response to a series of problems beginning with the shoulder blade. When the shoulder blade is not functioning well the arm bone (humerus) then rests and moves abnormally. The forearm then responds to these impairments by adapting to limited or excessive rotation of the forearm. Although the pain for these issues is thought to derive from the forearm extensor or flexor muscles, they are actually responding to deeper movement impairments involving the interplay between the shoulder blade, humerus, and forearm.

Repeated movements of the forearm, wrists and fingers, such as lifting objects or gardening, may cause tennis elbow. So can the grasping and twisting movements involved in carpentry, plumbing, or assembly line work.

This answer provided for NATA by the Southern Utah University Athletic Training Education Program.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.