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Tennis Elbow and Pickleball Elbow: How to Treat This Common Injury

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Tennis elbow, or lateral epicondylitis, is a condition that can cause pain or discomfort on the outside of the elbow. While tennis elbow can be very painful, it is a common and treatable condition.

Tennis elbow, sometimes called pickleball elbow, usually hurts outside of the elbow. This pain can radiate, or travel, down the top of the forearm toward the wrist.

Despite the name, tennis elbow does not always come from playing tennis. Most people affected by this condition do not play tennis at all.

What causes tennis elbow?

The elbow is made up of complex anatomy. Many muscles and tendons that help you bend and straighten your wrist and fingers begin up near the elbow and travel down the arm.

When the tendons you use to extend, or straighten, the wrist become damaged or inflamed, they develop small tears which can result in inflammation. This is what causes the pain associated with tennis elbow.

Unfortunately, many of the common repetitive motion activities we perform during day-to-day life can lead to the development of these symptoms. Lifting, gripping and grasping are all known to play a role in this condition. Less commonly, trauma or an injury can also cause symptoms.

Tennis elbow vs. pickleball elbow

With pickleball gaining popularity, tennis elbow is sometimes referred to as “pickleball elbow” by people who play the sport.

Like tennis, pickleball involves repetitive motions of the forearm. Pickleball elbow can be caused by overuse and muscle strain.

Treatment options for pickleball elbow are the same as for tennis elbow.

Is it OK to play through tennis elbow?

If your tennis elbow is severe or causes significant pain, you should stop playing immediately.

If your tennis elbow is mild and you want to continue playing tennis or pickleball while dealing with an injury, discuss the pros and cons with your doctor. Playing through an injury could slow down your recovery.

How to heal tennis elbow

Fortunately, many patients with tennis elbow can manage their condition without surgery. Nonsurgical treatment is always attempted first.

An orthopedic surgeon can evaluate your symptoms, determine if you have tennis elbow and help decide the best method of treatment.

Rest, activity modifications, wearing a tennis elbow brace or occupational therapy might be recommended. Anti-inflammatory medications, like ibuprofen or asprin, can also improve symptoms.

For more severe cases, steroid injections or surgery might be recommended to address the problem.

Exercises for tennis elbow

Check with your doctor before doing any exercises to try to relieve tennis elbow pain. If your doctor says it’s OK, some arm strengthening exercises and stretching can help alleviate your pain.

If your tennis elbow pain persists, you should make an appointment with a hand specialist. 

When does tennis elbow require surgery?

If medication, rest and exercises don’t help your tennis elbow, your doctor might discuss surgery as an option.

Tennis elbow surgery is an outpatient procedure. Recovery can take several months, but the surgery is usually very successful.

During the surgery, a small incision is made on the outside of the elbow. The diseased and torn tendons are identified and cleaned up back to healthy tendon. The tendon is the repaired back to the bone.

The procedure usually takes about 45 minutes and patients go home the same day. They are sent home with a splint to keep their elbow in place.

They are also sent to an occupational therapist who can help the patient gradually get back to everyday activities.

If you think you might have tennis elbow or would like to be evaluated, schedule an appointment with Dr. Ross Dunbar.

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