What is Tennis Elbow?

The term “tennis elbow” sounds like an injury sustained only by athletes in racquet sports.  However, tennis elbow is a common term for a painful condition that affects a wide variety of people.  In this post, I want to help shed some light on defining tennis elbow, how it occurs and what types of actions we can take to help people from all walks of life perform various daily activities with less pain and greater independence.

Tennis elbow, also known as lateral epicondylitis or lateral elbow tendinopathy, refers to a condition typically affecting the dominant arm of middle-aged adults (35-55 years old) who participate in activities that result in overuse of the wrist extensor muscles or who experience a single traumatic event often leading to pain at the outer aspect of the elbow.  The onset of pain can be attributed to degenerative changes of the tendon connecting the forearm extensor muscles to the bone (Fig. 1).

Common activities that lead to the onset of tennis elbow can include:

  • Repetitive movements of the wrist
  • Prolonged use of the hand and wrist
  • A single event: lifting a heavy object or awkward grasping motions


Examples in daily life, recreational activities & work routine:

  • Repetitive: Racquet sports, computer use (keyboard & mouse), screwdriver
  • Prolonged use: Chain saw, shoveling, snowblower, driving nails (hammer)
  • A single event: Awkward grip on a racquet during a backhand swing


Getting Help  DPT’s upper extremity specialists have identified key components in achieving pain relief during activity and improving strength.  These pillars of care include patient education in bracing and splinting options, activity modification, addressing ergonomics during work and life activities and specific (pain free!) exercise & stretching techniques that are essential to a speedy recovery.  

Simple Tips to Get Started:

  • Avoid lifting with the elbow extended and palm facing the floor
  • Adjust your work station and take breaks!
  • Consider using a counter force brace (Fig. 2) (Best if fitted by therapist or MD Office)

Why continue to live in pain?  If elbow pain and dysfunction are holding you back from participating in daily life, sport, leisure or work activities, schedule an appointment with one of our skilled occupational therapists who specialize in upper extremity rehab and get better, faster!

Skirven, T. M., Osterman, A. L., Fedorczyk, J. M., Amadio, P.C., Feldscher, S. B., & Shin, E. K.
(2020).  Ch. 36:  Therapy Management of Lateral Elbow Tendinopathy. Rehabilitation of the Hand and Upper Extremity.  Elsevier.