What is tennis elbow?

Tennis elbow (also known as lateral epicondylalgia) is a condition that causes pain on the outside of the elbow, usually as the result of repetitive 'overstrain' of tendons used for moving the wrist and hand, that attach at the outside of the elbow. 

Despite its name, it does not just affect people who play racquet sports. It also affects workers who do repeated activities with their hands, wrists and arms. It can, however, occur in any individual.

What are the symptoms of tennis elbow?

The level of pain can vary from person to person, with some people reporting a mild niggle that comes and goes and others reporting a severe ache that can keep them awake at night.

The main symptoms of tennis elbow include: 

  • Pain and tenderness on the bony lump on the outside of the elbow
  • Pain when gripping, doing activities such as shaking hands
  • Pain when lifting items such as a full kettle
  • Pain with twisting such as unscrewing the lid on a jar or carrying shopping
  • Pain with completely straightening the elbow

What causes tennis elbow?

Anyone can develop it but it's usually seen in people aged from 40 to 60 years old. Tennis elbow is thought of as an overuse injury, and is linked with activities that involve repeated gripping, lifting and twisting with the hand and wrist.

Although tennis elbow is painful, it shouldn't cause any lasting damage and more than 80 per cent of people with golfer's elbow recover with straightforward treatment.

How is it diagnosed?

Diagnosis is usually made from the patient's history and a simple examination without the need for special investigations. A scan may be done if there is uncertainty about the diagnosis, but this is unusual for tennis elbow.

How can I manage my tennis elbow?

There is self-management advice provided below to help minimise symptoms and facilitate the healing process:

Pain relief

Painkillers such as paracetamol and ibuprofen or anti-inflammatory gels may be helpful to control the pain and allow you to continue exercising. Discuss this with your GP or pharmacist.


The research into tennis elbow consistently shows that strengthening and stretching exercises are the most important things you can do to help ease your tennis elbow symptoms, and stop them recurring.

Activity modification can also help your symptoms. This simply means trying to change or adjust your grip or the position of your hand and wrist. It may mean repositioning your mouse when using your computer.

Further management options

If there is no response to the self-management information given within four to six weeks, please seek further advice from your physiotherapist or GP.