What is tennis elbow?

Fred C. Redfern, MD
Orthopedic Surgery
Tennis elbow is a degeneration in the tendons of the forearm at the elbow, says Fred Redfern, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at Sunrise Hospital. In this video, he says that overuse makes that attachment area break down.

Tennis elbow, or lateral epicondylitis, is a common overuse injury due to the repetitive overloading of the wrist extensor muscle group. Specifically, the extensor carpi radialis brevis (ECRB) muscle is most often the structure injured in lateral epicondylitis. The term tennis elbow is used because the condition is commonly seen in racquet sports athletes due to various stresses to this muscle group (i.e. strings too tight, grip is to small, and/or poor mechanics).

Brian Yee
Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation

Tennis elbow is traditionally due to repetitive overuse of the forearm musculature, tennis elbow being on the lateral aspect. Tennis elbow is common with people performing repetitive tasks with their hand and arms. This can include manual labor jobs, repetitive typing, or sporting activities.

Lateral and medial elbow pain can also be caused by elbow joint degeneration, a bursitis or nerve compression that causes referred pain to the elbow. Trigger points of muscles around the elbow can also cause referred pain in the elbow.

The patient should consult with a health practitioner to differentially diagnose their source of pain and dysfunction. 

Tennis elbow is a common name for a condition known as lateral epicondylalgia. Repetitive extension of the wrist causes irritation on the outside of the elbow, which serves as the attachment site for the wrist extensor muscles. (This answer provided for NATA by the Weber State University Athletic Training Education Program.)
Akash Bajaj, MD

Tennis elbow is a condition caused by inflammation of the tendons on the outer bony prominence (lateral epicondyle) of the elbow. Certain repetitive movements of the wrist can cause this condition. Tennis elbow can occur in anyone who strains the tendons of the forearm and is not limited to tennis players.

Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP) may be an effective treatment for tennis elbow. PRP is blood plasma with concentrated platelets and other growth factors. The concentrated platelets found in PRP contain huge reservoirs of bioactive proteins, including growth factors and signaling proteins that are vital to initiate and accelerate tissue repair and regeneration. These growth factors number at least a dozen different factors. These bioactive proteins initiate connective tissue healing in tissues bone and articular cartilage regeneration and repair, promote development of new blood vessels, and stimulate the wound healing process. The PRP signals the body to send in stem cells to repair the area of injury. PRP injections are commonly done under fluoroscopic guidance (live x-ray). This is done for precise localized delivery of these healing factors into injured ligaments, muscles, and joints.

To prepare PRP, a small amount of blood is taken from the patient's arm. The blood is then placed in a centrifuge. The centrifuge spins and separates the platelets form the rest of the blood components. The entire process takes less than 15 minutes and increases the concentration of platelets and growth factors up to 600%. Using the patient's own blood, specially prepared platelets are taken and re-injected into the affected area. These platelets release special growth factors that lead to tissue healing. By using the concentrated platelets, we increase the growth factors up to eight times which promotes relief and stops inflammation. PRP injections actually heal the area over a period of time. This can be anywhere from one to three months.

Thomas Plut, DO
Sports Medicine
Tennis elbow can be inflammation and/or degeneration of the tendons that join the forearm muscles on the outside of the elbow. It is often the result of gradual wear and tear, but can be a sudden injury.

Studies show the injury is often due to damage to a forearm muscle that helps stabilize the wrist when the elbow is straight. When this muscle is weakened from overuse, small tears can form in the tendon where it attaches to the lateral epicondyle (the bony bumps on the outside of the elbow). This can lead to inflammation, degeneration and pain.
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 healthcare provider.

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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.