Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

Tennis elbow is caused by damage to a tendon in the arm.

Tennis elbow is caused by damage to a tendon in the arm.
beginning of content

Tennis elbow

3-minute read

What is tennis elbow?

If you have pain on the outside of your elbow, you may have tennis elbow.

Tennis elbow is when there is a tear or swelling in the tendons that attach the muscle of the forearm to the bone in the upper arm. It is caused by repeated use of the muscles around the elbow.

If you stop doing whatever has caused the injury, tennis elbow usually gets better without treatment, but recovery can be slow, taking anything from a few months to 2 years.

What are the symptoms of tennis elbow?

Tennis elbow can cause the outside of the elbow and the upper forearm to feel sore and tender to touch. The pain may build up over several weeks until it becomes a severe, burning pain.

Other symptoms can include swelling of the area, and weakness or stiffness in the forearm. It may hurt to do certain movements, like shake hands or turn a doorknob. Pressing on the outside of the elbow may make the pain worse.

What causes tennis elbow?

You can get tennis elbow pain from playing tennis or from using your wrist and forearm a lot in other activities such as gardening, painting and other racquet sports.

You may also get tennis elbow if your work involves repeated movements of the wrist and forearm such as butchery, carpentry and plumbing.

Repetitive use of a computer keyboard or mouse is another possible cause.

Illustration showing tennis elbow.
Tennis elbow occurs when there is damage to the tendon that connects the muscles of your forearm to the bone in your upper arm.

How can tennis elbow be treated and prevented?

If you have tennis elbow, it may go away on its own without treatment. You do not need to immobilise the elbow with a sling. The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) suggests that you remain active, but avoid actions that cause significant pain and don’t lift heavy objects with your hands facing down.

Using an ice pack regularly and taking pain relievers can help. You may choose to use non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs), but research has not been able to clearly show that they definitely help recovery.

If your pain persists, and certainly if it has not improved after 6 to 12 weeks, it is advisable to see a physiotherapist. A physiotherapist can suggest exercises to stretch and strengthen the muscles in the arm, and may recommend that you wear a brace or strap on your forearm to reduce stress on the painful area.

If your pain is severe and does not improve, your doctor may suggest corticosteroid injections, although these are only used for short-term relief. Another type of therapy, called platelet-rich plasma injections, may also be an option.

Surgery for tennis elbow is rarely needed, but might be used if other treatments do not work over several months.

Your doctor or physiotherapist may also suggest ways you can change how you do certain tasks, to reduce the strain on your arm.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: January 2021


Back To Top

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Tennis elbow - MyDr.com.au

Tennis elbow, or lateral epicondylitis, is a condition where the outside portion of the elbow becomes painful and the pain may radiate into the forearm and wrist.

Read more on myDr website

Elbow pain - Better Health Channel

betterhealth.vic.gov.au

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Golfer's elbow - MyDr.com.au

Golfer's elbow (medial epicondylitis) results in pain and tenderness on the inner part of the elbow. Find out the causes, symptoms and treatments.

Read more on myDr website

Ankylosing Spondylitis - Pain Conditions - painHEALTH

Learn about Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS) as a muscularskeletal pain condition to identify how you can approach AS in your co-management treatment plan

Read more on painHEALTH website

TENS - transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation - MyDr.com.au

TENS stands for transcutaneous (through the skin) electrical nerve stimulation. It is a treatment that uses low voltage electrical currents to help treat many painful conditions.

Read more on myDr website

Bad shoulder? Keyhole surgery found lacking - MyDr.com.au

A particular type of keyhole surgery doesn’t appear to be any more beneficial than placebo surgery when it comes to shoulder impingement syndrome.

Read more on myDr website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Victorian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo