Can Swimming Inflame Tennis Elbow?

Tennis elbow is a misnomer. While the condition is commonly associated with tennis, it's not exclusive to the sport. Repetitive motion of any type can cause the tendinitis that's termed tennis elbow. Swimming is one of a number of activities that can trigger tennis elbow. It helps to know how to manage this painful condition and stay in the water, especially if you love to swim.

A woman is swimming laps. (Image: Purestock/Purestock/Getty Images)


Tennis elbow is an inflammation of the tendons that are on the outside of the elbow. It's formal name is lateral epicondylitis. The tendons of the forearm attach to the upper bone of the arm, the humerus. As the muscle narrows, it makes for a stress point in the structure of the arm, making tennis elbow a potential condition when you use the muscles in the forearm aggressively and repeatedly.

Impact of Swimming

The repeated insertion of the arm and use of these muscles to power you in the water can cause or exacerbate tennis elbow. In swimming circles, especially among backstrokers, the condition is called "swimmer's elbow." Dropping your elbow when you first catch the water and forcing a pull before fully sweeping down with your arm can cause tennis or swimmer's elbow in backstroke.


The best thing you can do for tennis or swimmer's elbow is rest, ice, compression and elevation, or RICE. Combined with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories, you should recover in on your own. However, you may require physical therapy or even surgery if the condition isn't resolved after months of trying. In addition, work with your swim and tennis coaches to identify any flaws in your swim stroke or tennis swing to minimize the potential for re-injury.

Getting to the Heart

If you've never been diagnosed with tennis elbow, seek your doctor's advice on whether this is the condition with which you are coping. It could be a pinched nerve or hair line fracture in your arm. Your doctor may request that you get an X-ray, a electromyography -- EMG -- test, or a magnetic resonance imaging -- MRI -- of your arm to correctly diagnose this often painful condition.

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