Tennis elbow is a very common injury – although it doesn’t necessarily occur from playing tennis – and fortunately, is often treated easily at home.
Tennis elbow, formally called lateral epicondylitis, is a condition that causes pain, swelling, and discomfort due to damage in the tendon of the elbow. It’s a stress injury, almost always the result of repetitive motion by the wrist and forearm, which puts tennis players as well as people with repetitive manual labor jobs (plumbers, butchers, painters, carpenters) at risk for developing it. The pain is usually felt on the outside of the elbow and forearm, but it can also radiate farther down the forearm into the wrist area; discomfort and swelling are common symptoms as well.
The best and most effective treatment for the pain of tennis elbow is rest – in some cases, this may be all the treatment that’s necessary. That’s more likely to be the case if you start as soon as you notice symptoms such as aches, pain, and swelling. The tendon, which has become strained or developed microscopic tears that haven’t been allowed to heal properly, needs time to repair itself. Since the injury is caused or exacerbated by overuse, take a break from the motions that aggravate it as much as possible: this can mean picking up a new hobby for a few weeks, but if it’s part of your job, try switching hands or asking to rotate tasks with someone else. Even going more slowly can help.
Ice or cold compresses can also help to reduce the swelling in the damaged tissue as well as relieve pain: apply an ice pack to the area (through a thin, protective layer of fabric) for ten to fifteen minutes a few times per day. Some people may find that applying heat is more soothing to the pain, or a combination of the two – experiment to find which works best for you.
Over the counter pain medication such as ibuprofen or aspirin is usually enough to manage pain and inflammation. You can also try a topical non-steroidal anti-inflammatory cream.
Tendons can be fairly slow to heal, so it may take a few weeks for your elbow to feel normal and pain-free. However, if the pain is severe, interferes with daily life, or lasts more than a few months, consult your doctor – they may prescribe stronger medication, corticosteroid injections, splinting, or physical therapy.