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Elbow Pain

Many patients come into the clinic with elbow pain that began without a specific incident that caused the pain. Most of the time, it's tennis elbow, or lateral epicondylitis. Contrary to the name, tennis elbow doesn't mean you must play tennis to get the condition. Another misnomer is that it's not actually a tendonitis (inflammation of the lining of the tendons), but rather an actual issue with the tendons themselves. It most often times involves small tears or attrition of the extensor carpi radialis brevis. There is pain when trying to pick up objects where the back of the hand is pointed towards the sky. Luckily, for most, the condition is self-limited, meaning that it will go away eventually. The bad news is that it may take a while - usually months and even over a year. There are some remedies that we can try, including changing the way you pick things up, the way you drive, wear a tennis elbow brace, stretching exercises, formal occupational therapy, and medications such as Aleve or Advil. In the past, steroid injections were used but there has been growing evidence that steroids do not change the course of the condition. After all, steroids are supposed to decrease the inflammation, and this condition isn't an inflammatory process. Newer evidence has shown that injections such as platelet rich plasma (PRP) may help with tendon conditions and it's something that can be tried. Finally, surgery is an option when all else has failed. 

If you have elbow pain, check its location. Do you have numbness or tingling in your forearms or hands? If not, it may just be tennis elbow. 

Randy Luo

  • American Society for Surgery of the Hand
  • American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
  • Baylor College of Medicine
  • Texas Medical Association