Diagnosis of Tennis Elbow

By  , Expert Content
Sep 14, 2012

Tennis elbow can be diagnosed clinically (that is based on history and physical examination) in most cases.

Medical history and physical examination: The doctor will take a detailed history and ask question regarding your job and any leisure or sports activities that you indulge in. Some of the questions that the doctor may ask include:

  • how long have you had the symptoms
  • did you have similar symptoms any time in the past
  • what aggravates or relieves your symptoms
  • do you find doing things like writing, typing, using a screw driver painful or difficult

The doctor will examine your elbow joint and arm with special attention to any swelling, deformity or tenderness of the joint. The doctor will examine the joint for pain, range of movement and strength.

[Read: Tips to Prevent Tennis Elbow]


Most people with tennis elbow do not need any investigations as the condition can be diagnosed clinically on examination. Tests are done if the doctor suspects that pain may be caused because of injury to the bones or nerve damage in your arm. Some investigations which may be done include:

  • x-rays
  • magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan
  • ultrasound scan
  • electromyography.


[Read: When to Seek Medical Attention for Tennis Elbow]

X-rays: This is a painless and non-invasive test that uses X-rays to form image of the part of body that is being investigated. A specialised machine is used to send individual x-ray particles through the body. The image that is produced is recorded on a special film or computer. In a X-ray image of structures such as bone that are dense appear white, metal and contrast media (special dye used to show up areas of the body) appear white, structures with air in them appear black, and muscle, fat, and fluid will appear as shades of gray. In elbow pain an X-ray can help to exclude other medical conditions which can cause elbow pain, such as a fracture,  arthritis.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): This is also a painless and non-invasive test, which can show details of structures inside the body which may not be seen on X-ray. MRI machines use radio waves and a strong magnetic field to create images of body part that is being examined. It provides good visual detail of the part of body that is examined. During MRI scan a series of detailed pictures of part of the body which is to be examined is taken. A computer then combines these pictures to form images of the part of the body that is being studied. The radiologist can diagnose abnormalities on the images.

Electromyography (EMG): This test can help to diagnose if a pinched or compressed nerve is causing your symptoms. In this test fine wires are inserted into a muscle to check changes in electrical signals when the muscle moves.


[Read: Prognosis of Tennis Elbow]


Ultrasound scan: This test uses high-frequency sound waves which cannot be heard by human ears to obtain information about structures inside the body. The pattern of the echoes produced when the sound waves are reflected from the internal structure creates a picture called a sonogram. The radiologist can differentiate normal and abnormal structures in the part that is examined.

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