Posted by William on July 6, 2011
Q.For the last few weeks I have had a sharp pain in my left elbow. It hurts to lift things, and when I press on the elbow it also hurts. Could this be tennis elbow? What else might it be? And what should I do about it?
A.What you are describing certainly sounds like tennis elbow — or, in medical terms, lateral epicondylitis. This is a condition caused by irritation of one of the wrist extensor tendons, which attaches onto the outside of the elbow. Classic symptoms include severe pain on the outside of the elbow when lifting objects, even something like a milk carton.
An examination shows tenderness over the bump on the outside of the elbow (the lateral epicondyle). There are other possibilities that might explain your symptoms — including fracture, ligament injury or nerve compression — but certainly these are much less likely.
A.The term “tennis elbow” is somewhat of a misnomer, as patients with this condition often do not play tennis. It is quite common in the workplace. Most people respond well to conservative measures, including ice; avoidance of activities that cause the pain; a device called a tennis elbow strap (a brace designed to take tension off of the irritated area); and anti-inflammatory medications, such as ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) and naproxen (Aleve). These measures work for more than 90 percent of my patients. For the few who do need additional help, the next option is usually surgery.