Tennis elbow, or lateral epicondylitis, is a common medical condition that can result from repetitive activities that strain the muscles of the forearm, such as hitting ground strokes in tennis. It is an inflammation of the elbow's outer or lateral tendons, which secure the muscles responsible for controlling the wrist and hand. Though it can be a painful and irritating condition, most patients are able to cure tennis elbow and eventually go back to their prior activities.
Consult a doctor or sports medicine specialist at the first sign of burning or irritation in your elbow. Tennis elbow usually develops and worsens gradually. If you catch it early, it will be easier to cure.
Provide your doctor with a full medical history and have her examine you for signs of tennis elbow. In most cases, the examination consists of a simple battery of tests in which the doctor will apply pressure to the area to check for pain, and ask you to make a fist or lift objects to see if it causes discomfort. Rarely will any X-rays be called for, though the doctor may perform an MRI to see where the tendon fibers have become detached from the bone.
Cease any activities that require heavy use of the forearm for at least 4 to 6 weeks. Your doctor may prescribe a pain reliever or anti-inflammatory during this period. You might also be instructed to ice the area, and in some cases you will have to wear a wrist splint or brace to restrict movement that could inflame the tendons further.
Check in with your physician regularly. If severe pain persists after 4 to 6 weeks, he may suggest corticosteroid injections into the inflamed area to help cure your tennis elbow. These should reduce pain and swelling significantly. Avoid too many corticosteroid injections into the same spot, as these can further deteriorate the tendons around your elbow. If in doubt about a doctor's treatment, get a second opinion.
Perform physical therapy as instructed by a medical professional. Once the pain has subsided, limit your arm movement for some time if you want to fully cure the condition. The physical therapy usually requires only mild stretching and strength building exercises. About 90 percent of patients recover full use of their arm and can return to previous activities without surgery.
Consider the option of surgery only after all other attempts to cure your tennis elbow have failed, and only after 6 months of incapacitation.
Consult with more than one doctor before electing to have surgery. Some surgeons now use an arthroscopic method to cure tennis elbow, rather than the traditional incision. A qualified medical professional can advise you on which procedure is best for you.