Tennis elbow develops gradually. It is a painful condition almost always caused by overuse, commonly in sports such as tennis but also among anyone stressing a particular forearm muscle—the extensor carpi radialis brevis (ECRB)—repetitively. Plumbers, painters, cooks, carpenters, auto workers, and cooks are all at a higher risk of developing tennis elbow than the rest of the population. Those between the ages of 30 and 50 are diagnosed most often, but anyone can get it.
Because the ECRB tendon gets inflamed and/or damaged, symptoms include burning or pain along the outside of the elbow and a weak grip, especially when doing the activities that caused the condition. A weak handshake is also common.
An orthopedic doctor specializing in the hand and elbow areas is best qualified to diagnose tennis elbow. He or she will perform a physical exam, use imaging, and sometimes electromyography (nerve testing) to arrive at the correct diagnosis.
Most people get relief from tennis elbow without surgery. A combination of treatments such as rest, physical therapy, anti-inflammatory medications, activity modification (correcting an improper tennis stroke, for example), equipment modification, bracing, and steroid injections may help. An orthopedic doctor may recommend surgery if these treatments do not return a patient to health within a reasonable amount of time. Surgery can almost always be done on an outpatient basis.