Clinical Conversations

Pseudo Tennis Elbow: A Commonly Misdiagnosed Mechanical Problem

Test-for-painful-grip,-wrist-and-elbow-extendedLateral epicondylitis, more commonly known as “tennis elbow,” is a pathology that is familiar to physical therapists and the general public.  What is lesser known is “pseudo tennis elbow,” a mechanical problem with a very simple solution!  Unfortunately, therapists whom are not familiar with the utilization of mechanical diagnosis may unknowingly miss this common elbow derangement.  As a therapist practicing the McKenzie method of mechanical diagnosis, I have diagnosed BOTH of my current elbow pain patients as derangements (or pseudo tennis elbow).


Our patient, “Jane” presented to therapy with intermittent right elbow pain, worsening over the last 3 months. Jane reported difficulty with gripping, lifting, carrying and global limited function of the right arm.  Jane described symptoms as “variable” meaning she could perform a task that produced his elbow pain. Then, perform the same task or movement again without experiencing any pain at all!  This variability of pain is the hallmark of a derangement and should not be misdiagnosed as a tendonitis, which would indicate inflammation (in which case pain would be constant).  Jane rated worst elbow pain as a 6/10.

Physical Therapist Evaluation & Findings

Objective findings included pain with passive elbow flexion and extension as well as pain with active wrist extension and with gripping a tennis ball.  Because of my experience as a mechanical therapist, I am familiar with a technique called a mobilization with movement (MWM), developed by Brian Mulligan (a colleague of Robin McKenzie).  The mobilization provides a lateral force over the ulna at the elbow joint. While the patient applied this force, she was able to grip the tennis ball PAIN FREE!  This same technique was applied for other painful baselines and achieved the same results of ABOLITION OF ALL PAIN!  This ability to turn symptoms off with a mobilization indicates an elbow derangement and the MWM is used as the treatment strategy.

Patient Homework and Outcomes

Jane was asked to perform the MWM utilizing the lateral glide while gripping a tennis ball to be performed 10-20 times every hour.  The theory is that this mobilization is repositioning the joint in order for it to articulate correctly, resulting in improved range of motion and strength after.  Jane returned to the clinic the next day with reports of at least 25% improvement! Objective findings were retested and nearly all baselines had improved in less than 24 hours!  Jane returned 1 week later and reported an 85% overall improvement with symptoms.

Get Your Own Mechanical Assessment

Don’t be misdiagnosed! Straightforward pathologies which require one exercise to treat are commonly missed with standard treatment.  This results in extra therapy visits, and more of your time and money.  It is worth your time to see if your pain has a MECHANICAL component.  A simple solution may otherwise be missed.