Tennis elbow, also called lateral epicondylitis, is a repetitive-motion injury to the tendon in the arm. This overuse injury can usually be resolved by identifying and ceasing the activity that caused the strain, correcting the arm movements that resulted in the injury, and using over-the-counter pain relievers. Persistent cases that don't respond to these tennis elbow remedies may require more advanced medical treatments.
Identifying the cause of the pain is the first step in treating tennis elbow. While this injury is frequently caused by playing tennis, it can result from any activity that involves repetitive arm movements. Activities that involve gripping a tool, such as using a computer mouse or grasping a screwdriver, can cause tennis elbow, especially if the tool is too large for the user's hand. Overuse creates small tears in the tendon, and repeatedly performing the actions that cause the tears aggravates the injury, increases the discomfort, and lengthens the recovery time.
Tennis elbow remedies include the R.I.C.E. method, or rest, ice, compression, and elevation. With rest, the affected arm can still be used for normal activities, but actions that cause pain should be avoided for at least two weeks. An ice pack can be applied to the elbow of the injured arm for 10-minute intervals a few times a day, and an elastic bandage or brace may be placed around the forearm to compress and relieve pressure on the muscles in the arm. Elevating the arm above the heart can reduce swelling in the tendon. Over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, can also reduce swelling and provide pain relief from tennis elbow.
It may take several weeks or months for the tendon to heal using these tennis elbow remedies. If the pain persists for two to three months and doesn't respond to rest, consult with a physician. He may inject a corticosteroid into the arm to reduce inflammation and pain.
In rare cases, surgery may be used to treat lateral epicondylitis. Generally, this is only recommended when the tendon is severely damaged, other tennis elbow remedies have failed to provide pain relief, and the injury has persisted for more than six months. With surgery, damaged tissue is removed from the affected arm.
Overuse injuries such as tennis elbow are likely to recur, particularly when the actions are related to sports or work. A physician or physical therapist can recommend exercises that will strengthen the tendon and prevent future occurrences of tennis elbow. A healthcare professional can also examine the technique used when performing the actions that caused tennis elbow and suggest alternative movements for pain-free activity.