Clinical Conversations

Pseudo Tennis Elbow: A Commonly Misdiagnosed Mechanical Problem

Lateral 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).


Portland area patient presented to physical therapy with intermittent right elbow pain, worsening over the last 3 months. Patient reported difficulty with gripping, lifting, carrying and global limited function of the right arm. Patient described symptoms as “variable” meaning he 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 (also called tendinitis), which would indicate inflammation (in which case pain would be constant). Patient rated worst elbow pain as a 6/10.


Mobilization with Movement with GripObjective 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, he 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.


The patient 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 re-positioning the joint in order for it to articulate correctly, resulting in improved range of motion and strength after. The patient 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! The patient returned 1 week later and reported an 85% overall improvement with symptoms.


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

If you are experiencing elbow pain and are living in the Portland/Vancouver metro area, get the best results by calling us today at 503-244-6232 to schedule a physical therapy evaluation.