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What Are The First Signs Of Tennis Elbow?

Tennis elbow is a painful condition characterized by inflammation of tendons attached by the side of the elbow. It occurs due to overuse or repetitive use of the elbow especially in professions like butchers, painters, plumbers, carpenters and sports like tennis, racquet sports, golf, swimming, etc. Tennis elbow starts with mild pain, localized only initially to elbow and it goes worse with time spreading to forearm and wrist. It is more felt when you use thumb and first two fingers. It is more common at the age of 30 to 50 years.

What Are The First Signs Of Tennis Elbow?

What Are The First Signs Of Tennis Elbow?[1]

The repetitive strenuous motion of wrist in games like tennis, golf, hedge etc., and in activities like painting, use of screwdriver and hammer by carpenter and others can lead to inflammation of the tendons of the elbow. This condition is called Tennis elbow. It is medically known as lateral epicondylitis. It usually affects the people at the age between 30 to 50 years.

The elbow joint is connected to the forearm by muscles and tendons. The muscles and tendons are joined to the bones. The repetitive incorrect action of the wrist can cause small tears in the muscles and tendons of the forearm. It also leads to the inflammation of the tendons and muscles.

It is given the name tennis elbow as 5 % of the tennis players develop this condition. However, you can also develop tennis elbow by other activities like weightlifting, swimming or playing violin. These activities cause strain in the muscles and tendons. The pain is felt outside the affected elbow.

The first signs of tennis elbow are-[2]

  • Tennis elbows start with mild pain and tenderness over the elbow joint.
  • The pain is felt worse when hands are used to perform any work.
  • Stiffness in the elbow in the morning.

The other symptoms of tennis elbow are following-[3]

  • The pain gets worse with the time and it becomes so severe that pain is felt even when the forearm is still
  • Pain radiates from the elbow to the forearm and wrist.
  • Soreness in the muscles of the forearm
  • Numbness and tingling in hands
  • Weakness in the elbow
  • Pain is felt worst while:
    • Squeezing an object
    • Bending or lifting your arm
    • Writing or gripping small objects like pen
    • Twisting the forearm like turning a handle of the door or opening a jar
    • Holding cup
    • Extending the arm
    • Shaking hands

Tennis elbow can happen in both the hands but it is likely to affect the arm which is used most. The symptoms become worse with the damage until the causative activity is ceased. It is a self-limiting condition. Depending on the damage, recovery can occur in between six months to two years.

Diagnosis of tennis elbow is established by simple physical examination. However, X-ray, CT scan or MRI scan can be done to rule out severe damage or injury to the affected elbow. MRI scan is performed to get the details of soft tissues, muscles, and tendons of the arm.

Tennis elbow gets cured by itself. It can recover itself in 6 months to two years. However, medical treatment will be helpful to manage the condition earlier in a more efficient way. Resting the arm, physiotherapy, cold application, medicines like painkillers, anti-inflammatory medicines, application of splint and steroid injections can treat the condition. Shockwave therapy to the elbow can induce self-healing by the body’s healing process. Surgery is recommended in some cases.[4]



Tennis elbow is a painful inflammatory condition of the muscles and tendons supporting the elbow joint caused by repetitive over straining of the forearm. Pain is mild in the beginning resulting in slight discomfort, weakness and morning stiffness which gets worse gradually. It recovers by itself in 6 months to 2 years.

Also Read:

Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:December 15, 2020

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