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What Causes Tennis Elbow?

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What Causes Tennis Elbow?

Tennis elbow, causing excruciating pain around the outside of your elbow, is an inflammation of the tendons that connect your lower arm muscles to the bony prominence on the outside of your elbow. Overuse of these muscles during sports (tennis, squash, etc) or work (carpentry, plumbing, constant use of the keyboard, etc), or even a direct blow may lead to it.

If you have never played tennis you might think that you’re not at risk for getting tennis elbow. But did you know that this condition which causes pain on the outside of your elbow and makes it difficult for you to grasp or twist things can occur even in people who don’t play the game? In fact, around 95% of people who suffer from a tennis elbow don’t play tennis.1 So what causes tennis elbow? Let’s take a look at some factors which may play a role.

What Can Cause Tennis Elbow?

Some of the factors that causes tennis elbow are:

1. Muscle Overuse

Tennis elbow is often caused due to damage to a muscle found in your forearm. This muscle, known as the extensor carpi radialis brevis, attaches to the bone in the elbow and is involved in the movement of your wrist. Overusing this muscle can cause small tears to form in the tendon, which is the tissue that attaches the muscle to the bone, leading to irritation and pain.2 3

2. Sports

Sports which involve overhead arm motions like tennis, squash, or racquetball are associated with tennis elbow. In fact, it is estimated that it develops in about 50% of athletes who use overhead arm motions. But improper stroke techniques and faulty equipment may also play a part in increasing risk where racquet sports are concerned.4 5

3. Manual Work

People who work in occupations which require vigorous and repetitive use of the forearm muscle may be prone to developing tennis elbow. Painters, carpenters, and plumbers may be at particular risk and even butchers, cooks or auto workers may get it.6 You may also need to watch out for this condition if use a computer keyboard or mouse constantly.7 It is considered that the weight lifting or repetition involved in these kinds of work might cause injury.

4. Injury

Though it is rare, sometimes the development of this condition can be traced to a direct blow or traumatic strain.8

5. Age

Even though anybody can get tennis elbow it is more common in people between the ages of 30 and 50.9

6. Psychosocial Factors

Psychosocial factors may also interact with the mechanical risk factors that we looked at to cause this disorder. In fact, one study found that it was associated with low social support in the workplace among women.10

7. Psychological Factors

Factors like depression and anxiety are associated with this disorder. However, it is not clear whether they play a part in the development of tennis elbow or arise because of the pain caused by it.11

What Can You Do About It?

  • If you develop tennis elbow resting your arm for 2 to 3 weeks may be helpful.
  • You could also try putting some ice on it.
  • Painkillers, exercises that strengthen your muscles, the use of braces, and cortisone injections can also be useful.12
  • Alternative therapies like acupuncture have also been found to be effective too. 13

References   [ + ]

1, 4, 8, 11. Synopsis of Causation. Ministry of Defence.
2, 7. Tennis elbow. National Health Services.
3, 5. Tennis Elbow. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.
6. Tennis Elbow (Lateral Epicondylitis). American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.
9. Tennis Elbow (Lateral Epicondylitis). American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.
10. Haahr, J. P., and J. H. Andersen. “Physical and psychosocial risk factors for lateral epicondylitis: a population based case-referent study.” Occupational and environmental medicine 60, no. 5 (2003): 322-329.
12. Tennis elbow. National Health Services.
13. Molsberger, A., and E. Hille. “The analgesic effect of acupuncture in chronic tennis elbow pain.” Rheumatology 33, no. 12 (1994): 1162-1165.