“Menace” Elbow

By Brian M. Torpey M.D., FACS


Tennis elbow is a frustrating type of tendonitis that may affect recreational as well as high caliber athletes.  Athletes typically complain of pain when performing activities that involve the wrist as commonly seen during the backhand motion of the tennis volley, swinging a heavy bat or certain weight lifting motions.  This type of strain or tendonitis usually occurs in the beginning of the sports season when the wrist and forearm muscles are de-conditioned and “out of shape”.

In the case of tennis elbow, the site of the inflammation includes the muscles and attachments on the outside of the athletes elbow.  These muscles and tendons are aggravated with actions that cause the wrist to extend (as in the motion of traffic police officer when he holds his arm out straight to stop the flow of traffic).  This motion causes a sensation of burning or pulling that is noted on the outside of the elbow.  Although this form of tendonitis initially starts off as an irritating nuisance it can eventually handicap the athlete and adversely affect their performance in sports activities.  Treatment of tennis elbow includes a three-prong approach, rest from the offending activity, ice-massage to the elbow area at least twice a day for approximately twenty minutes, and a short course of anti-inflammatory medications.

In order to prevent the recurrence of tennis elbow, a stretching program should be initiated after the athlete has controlled the inflammation associated with acute tennis elbow.  They should then proceed with an exercise program that focuses on strengthening of the wrists and forearm muscles.

A sports medicine physician should evaluate recurrent tennis elbow that does not respond well to a stretching program in order to help prevent the buildup of inflammatory scar tissue.