How Tennis & Baseball Elbow Affect The Elbow Joint

Tennis Elbow and Baseball Elbow are two painful inflammatory conditions that affect the elbow joint. While these conditions are named after two specific sports, there are other sports and activities that can cause these conditions as well. Here’s what you need to know about these elbow issues -- and what to do about them.

Elbow joint conditions are caused by repetitive use

Tennis Elbow occurs when muscles in the forearm that control the wrist and hand are strained by repetitive stress. While playing tennis is a common way to develop this condition, other activities can cause Tennis Elbow as well. Repetitive elbow movements like painting, using a computer mouse, rowing a boat and chopping meat can all cause tennis elbow.

Baseball Elbow, also called Pitcher’s Elbow, typically occurs with repetitive overhand throwing. Though the condition is named after baseball, other sports like football, tennis, and javelin throwing can also cause this form of an elbow strain, too.

Tennis Elbow affects the lateral epicondyle

The lateral epicondyle is the bony prominence on the outer side of the elbow where the forearm muscles attach to the elbow joint. Patients with Tennis Elbow, also called lateral epicondylitis, tend to experience pain along the lateral epicondyle when they swing a racquet, turning a doorknob, hold a coffee cup or shake hands.

Baseball Elbow affects the medial epicondyle

The medial epicondyle is the bony prominence on the inner side of the elbow. Baseball Elbow, also called medial epicondylitis, happens when the tendons and ligaments that attach to the medial epicondyle are strained by repetitive motion. Patients with Baseball Elbow tend to experience pain with overhand throwing. In addition to pain, these patients can also feel like their elbow is stiff or “locked.”

Young baseball players between the ages of 9-14 are at a higher risk of Baseball Elbow since their ligaments, tendons, and growth plates are still developing. If a young athlete has Baseball Elbow, it’s especially important to address it because if the condition persists as their elbow joint is developing, it can lead to permanent damage. It’s always good to know how to reduce the risk of injury in children’s sports.

Rest, ice, and anti-inflammatories are mainstays of treatment

Since these conditions are caused by repetitive movement, the mainstay of treatment is rest -- which means avoiding not only the motion that caused the injury but also any unnecessary movement of the joint. Ice and anti-inflammatory medications are also often indicated since they alleviate pain and treat inflammation. Physical therapy is another option for elbow injuries to incorporate stretching and strengthening exercises.

Anyone with persistent or worsening symptoms should see an orthopedic specialist

If rest, ice, and anti-inflammatories don’t solve the problem, or if the elbow condition continues to recur, it’s important to seek medical attention, preferably from an orthopedic specialist.

Treatment options including steroids, physical therapy, and an analysis of the patient’s throwing or racquet swinging technique are often useful in resolving elbow joint injuries. In rare cases, surgery is required to treat severe lateral or medial epicondylitis.


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Written by Sarah Thebarge, Physician Assistant