"Tennis elbow" is a general term that usually is not related to playing tennis. However, this term came into use because it can be a significant problem for some tennis players who grip their racquet too tightly.
Tennis elbow is a condition usually caused by overuse of the forearm muscles (wrist extenders) that results in pain at the elbow. It affects the outside (lateral) elbow.
Tennis elbow most commonly involves the area where the muscles and tendons of the forearm attach to the outside bony area (called the epicondyle) of the elbow. Your doctor may also call this condition "lateral epicondylitis."
Tennis elbow can affect either the dominant or non-dominant arm, or it may affect both arms.
Tennis elbow affects 1% to 3% of the population and, overall, 10% to 50% of tennis players during their careers. Fewer than 5% of tennis elbow diagnoses are related to tennis.
Tennis elbow affects men more than women. It most often affects people between the ages of 30 and 50, although people of any age can be affected.
Tennis elbow also affects other athletes and workers who participate in activities that require repetitive arm, elbow and wrist work. Examples include:
Tennis elbow is caused by either abrupt or subtle tearing of the muscle/tendon area around the outside of the elbow.
Tennis elbow cannot be diagnosed from blood tests or X-rays. The condition is diagnosed by the description of pain you provide to your doctor (clinical history) and findings during a physical examination. It can be confirmed by ultrasound or MRI.
Since many other conditions can cause pain around the elbow, it is important that you see your doctor so the proper diagnosis can be made. Then your doctor can prescribe the appropriate treatment.
Tennis elbow is usually treated by medical means, and only rarely by surgery. The goals of treatment are to:
The type of treatment will depend on several factors, including the person's age, type of other medications being taken, overall health, medical history, and severity of pain.
Overall, 90% to 95% of patients with tennis elbow will improve and recover with the treatment plan described previously.
However, about 5% of patients will not get better with "conservative" therapy and will need surgery to repair the injured muscle-tendon unit around the elbow. Eighty percent to 90% of patients who have surgery will improve with pain relief and return of strength to unlimited activities.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 07/10/2016.