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Tennis elbow affects more than just tennis players

Medical conditions often receive nicknames due to certain associations. For example, the injury to the elbow that is common among tennis players has earned the informal name of tennis elbow, as the (improper) repetitive motion of swinging a racquet is a major cause.

However, it is incorrect to assume this condition only affects athletes who play racquet sports. Anyone who makes the same repetitive elbow motion in his or her occupation is just as much at risk.

What is tennis elbow?

The medical name of this cumulative trauma disorder is lateral epicondylitis. It entails tiny tears in and inflammation of the connective tissue that attaches the muscles in the forearm to the outside of the elbow. The tears come from repeatedly straightening and raising the wrist and hand. Common symptoms include pain and tenderness in the area and a weakened ability to grip things.  Many treatment options are available:

  • Rest and cessation of activity
  • Medication
  • Physical therapy
  • Steroid injections
  • Brace
  • Shock wave therapy
  • Platelet-rich plasma
  • Open or arthroscopic surgery

Surgery is only necessary in a minority of cases, as most people respond well to noninvasive treatment plans. 

Who can develop lateral epicondylitis?

Tennis elbow is not unique to tennis players or athletes in general, nor do they make up the majority of cases. Other occupations also make the same motion that leads to the condition, including assembly line workers, auto mechanics, butchers, carpenters, cleaners, cooks, gardeners, landscapers, painters and plumbers. Repetitive actions such as heavy lifting, scrubbing, cutting and painting contribute to the development of lateral epicondylitis. It occurs more in those between 30 and 50 years old.

Those who have acquired tennis elbow as a result of their employment may be able to file a workers' compensation claim if the condition affects their ability to perform their work duties. The benefits they receive would cover the cost of medical expenses and a portion of the lost wages.

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