Tendonitis is a condition that affects the tendons, which are tough, fibrous connective tissues that attach bone to muscle; it causes painful swelling in the tendons. When this occurs in the arm, it’s often referred to as tennis elbow.
Tendonitis of the elbow is the most common cause of elbow pain, and despite the nickname tennis elbow, many people who have it don’t even play tennis: it’s actually a repetitive motion injury, caused by stress to the tendons in the elbow and lower arm. The stress to the area is the result of repeated gripping motions, especially those that rely heavily on the thumb, forefinger, and middle finger; for this reason, it’s very common in people who play racquet sports. Aside from tennis, this includes racquetball and squash as well as weightlifting and even fencing.
What if you don’t play any racquet sports or lift weights? Athletes aren’t the only ones who can develop tendonitis of the elbow – hobbies that involve repeated or extensive gripping are also at risk. Avid knitters, painters, and typists may strain the tendons in their arm, as can gardeners and carpenters as they hold their tools.
The pain of elbow tendonitis often begins at the bony knob of the elbow, where the tendons connect, and radiates outward into the upper or lower arm. In addition, activities that require the hands are just as likely to set off pain as those requiring the use of the elbow: lifting objects, straightening the wrist and raising your hand. Anything that involves gripping can also cause noticeable pain, such as making a fist, turning a doorknob, or shaking hands.
Fortunately, tendonitis is fairly easy to treat. You’ll need to rest the area by taking a break from activities that exacerbate the pain for a few weeks; icing the area a couple of times per day is also helpful. Over the counter pain medication is sufficient to treat it, and you may consider wearing a brace. Tendonitis of the elbow is rarely serious, but see a doctor for severe or long-lasting pain.