What is Epicondylitis?

tennis ball on a tennis court

Lateral epicondylitis is long term for a common injury: tennis elbow. Tennis elbow is an overuse injury that affects the muscles and tendons in the forearm and elbow, causing pain and discomfort that can spread from the elbow through the forearm and wrist.

Tendons are strong bands of tissue that connect muscle to bone. The tendons in your forearms that allow your wrists and elbows to extend and flex attach to the bone at the lateral epicondyle (the bony little bump on your outer elbow), which is where it gets its name.

These tendons, and the muscles they support, can become strained in a number of ways, from overuse to misalignment from improper form or a bad turn. Overuse injuries are one of the primary causes of tennis elbow: miniscule tears form in the muscles and tendons as the same movement is repeated again and again, often too strenuously. When they are not given enough time to heal before a new tear forms, it causes swelling and pain. It’s even more likely to occur if you don’t have proper form as you execute the motion (such as a backhand swing or turning a certain tool) over and over again.

Despite the name, tennis players aren’t the only people who develop tennis elbow – they’re not even the most common. The tendon strain often forms in people who perform other repetitive motions, such as jobs involving physical labor (plumbers are at an especially high risk), painters, chefs, and butchers, who regularly cut through tough materials.

Tennis elbow can make it painful or uncomfortable to make a fist, perform gripping motions, raise your arm, extend your wrist, or lift objects. It’s usually easily diagnosed and treated at home – with rest, icing, stretching, and anti-inflammatory pain medication – but if pain is severe or persists, consult your doctor.

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