Patient Information

What is elbow tendinopathy?

What is elbow tendinopathy? — Elbow tendinopathy is a condition that causes elbow pain and forearm weakness. Doctors use the term “elbow tendinopathy” when people have a problem with a tendon in the elbow. Tendons are strong bands of tissue that connect muscles to bones. Depending on which elbow tendon is injured, the condition is also known as “tennis elbow” or “golf elbow.”

In most people with elbow tendinopathy, the tendons are not inflamed or swollen. If they do get inflamed or swollen, doctors call it “tendinitis.”

Tendinitis usually starts suddenly. Tendinopathy usually happens over a longer period of time.

What causes elbow tendinopathy? — This condition can happen as people get older, especially if they do a lot of work or activity using their elbow and forearm. Tendinitis can happen when people get hurt or do the same movements over and over.

What are the symptoms of elbow tendinopathy? — The most common symptoms are:

  • Elbow pain — The pain can start slowly or suddenly. It can spread to the upper arm or forearm.
  • Weakness of the forearm muscles
  • Swelling (if people have tendinitis)
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Is there a test for elbow tendinopathy? — No. But your doctor or nurse should be able to tell if you have it by talking with you and doing an exam.

How is elbow tendinopathy treated? — Most of the time, this condition will get better on its own, but it can take months to heal completely. To help get better, you can:

  • Rest your elbow and arm — Ask your doctor about wearing an arm brace (picture 1).
  • Take a pain-relieving medicine — Your doctor might recommend that you take a medicine such as acetaminophen (sample brand name: Tylenol®), ibuprofen (sample brand names: Advil®, Motrin®), or naproxen (sample brand names: Aleve®, Naprosyn®).

Is there anything I can do on my own to feel better? — Yes. You can do different exercises to help with your symptoms. The right exercises for you will depend on which elbow tendon is injured. The following exercises can help stretch the lower arm muscles:

  • Tennis elbow stretch — Hold your injured arm straight out, and point your fingers down to the ground. Use your other hand (with the thumb pressing on the palm) to grab this hand. Then press down on the back of the hand to bend the wrist more (picture 2). Hold this position for 30 seconds. Repeat the stretch 3 times. Do this exercise 1 time a day.
  • Golf elbow stretch — Stand an arm’s length away from the wall, with the injured arm closest to the wall. Put your palm on the wall, with your fingers pointing down. Press gently against the wall to stretch your muscles. Hold this position for 30 seconds. Repeat the stretch 3 times. Do this exercise 1 time a day.
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Other types of exercises can help make the forearm muscles stronger. Your doctor, nurse, or physical therapist (exercise expert) can show you how to do these types of exercises. He or she will tell you when to start them and how often to do them.

What if my symptoms don’t get better? — If your symptoms don’t get better, talk with your doctor or nurse. He or she can suggest other treatments, such as physical therapy or a shot of medicine in the tendon.

Can elbow tendinopathy be prevented? — Yes. To help prevent elbow tendinopathy, you can:

  • Take breaks when you do activities in which you move your elbow and wrist a lot.
  • Keep your elbows slightly bent when you exercise or lift things.
  • Wear gloves or use 2 hands when using tools.
  • Use a 2-handed backhand swing in tennis.
  • Use grip tape or padding on your golf clubs
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