Tennis Elbow or a Torn Ligament?

Anyone who has ever experienced an elbow injury knows how excruciating and inconvenient it can be. Even the smallest task, such as tying your shoes, can seem impossible when every bend of the arm causes pain. Whether you suspect you're suffering from tennis elbow or a torn ligament, it's always wise to see your doctor as soon as you feel the first twinge of elbow pain.

Anyone can suffer from an elbow injury.
Credit: KatarzynaBialasiewicz/iStock/Getty Images

When It's Tennis Elbow

Despite its name, tennis elbow doesn't only affect tennis players. This injury occurs when the tendons -- the tissue that connects muscle to bone -- in your elbow become inflamed. The inflammation is generally the result of repetitive motions, such as hammering nails, chopping meat or, yes, swinging a tennis racket. The pain caused by tennis elbow should come on gradually rather than as the result of an accident. If you have tennis elbow, you will likely feel burning or pain at the outside of the elbow and you'll likely have difficulty making a fist or gripping things.

When It's a Torn Ligament

Ligaments are the tissues that connect bone to bone. When these tissues tear, the injury is often called a sprain or a strain. Ligament tears come on suddenly as the result of an injury. An elbow sprain or strain may be caused by falling and landing on your arm. According to New York University's Langone Medical Center, certain sports also put you at risk of a torn ligament. You can tear a ligament if you throw a ball forcefully, if a ball hits your elbow or if you twist your arm at an extreme angle. You may hear a popping noise, feel sharp pain and experience swelling and bruising around the elbow.

Treatments for Tennis Elbow

When you start to develop symptoms of tennis elbow, rest your elbow until you can get in to see your doctor. She may do x-rays to rule out any other possibilities, such as arthritis. Once she's determined you have tennis elbow, she'll recommend a few courses of treatment. You'll need to take a break from whatever activities caused the injury, and she may also give you medication to bring down the swelling or recommend that you wear a brace or visit a physical therapist. Most instances of tennis elbow don't require surgery. According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, between 80 and 95 percent of tennis elbow cases can be successfully treated without surgery.

Treatment for Torn Ligaments

Torn ligaments are treated in much the same way as tennis elbow. Your doctor will likely recommend you use the RICE method of rest, ice, compression and elevation. If your elbow is only mildly sprained – you may have some swelling and discomfort but not extreme pain – these home remedies will often be enough. Surgery may also be necessary to repair a moderately or severely torn ligament, or your doctor may apply a cast to keep the elbow immobilized for several weeks or months to give the ligament time to heal.

Is This an Emergency?

If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, seek emergency treatment immediately.
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