Tennis elbow, or lateral epicondylitis, is a painful condition of the elbow caused by overuse. Tennis elbow specifically involves the area where the muscles and tendons of the forearm attach to the outside bony area (called the lateral epicondyle) of the elbow. Tennis elbow is an inflammation of the tendons that join the forearm muscles on the outside of the elbow. The forearm muscles and tendons become damaged from overuse and repeating the same motions .This leads to pain and tenderness on the outside of the elbow.
There are many treatment options for tennis elbow, depending on the severity of your injury. In most cases, you will need to work with your primary care doctor, physical therapist and in some severe cases, a surgeon.
After the pain of tennis elbow has been reduced or eliminated by your therapist they will incorporate exercises to stretch and strengthen muscles and tendons around the injured elbow. Exercises for tennis elbow treatment are an important factor for two reasons. It promotes joint and muscle flexibility in the arm, and it helps to increase muscle strength which can be lost through the injury and in the healing process. It is beneficial to learn everything you can about the injury for a positive long term recovery.
What did I do to cause Tennis Elbow?
Sports participants, especially racquet sport players, golfers, fencers, are prone to developing tennis elbow.
Athletes are not the only people who get tennis elbow. Many people with tennis elbow participate in work or recreational activities that require repetitive and vigorous use of the forearm muscle. Painters, plumbers, and construction workers are at a greater risk to developing tennis elbow. Other jobs that can lead to tennis elbow are auto workers, cooks, and even butchers. The repetition (overuse) and weight lifting required in these occupations is thought to be the main factors leading to injury. Most people who get tennis elbow are between the ages of 30 and 50, although anyone can get tennis elbow if they have the risk factors.
The symptoms of tennis elbow can develop gradually. In most cases, the pain begins as mild and slowly worsens over weeks and months. There is usually no specific injury associated with the start of symptoms.
Common signs and symptoms of tennis elbow include:
- Pain or burning on the outer part of your elbow
- Weak grip strength and pain when lifting
- Pain radiating down the forearm
The symptoms are often worsened with forearm activity, such as holding a racquet, turning a wrench, or shaking hands. Your dominant arm is most often affected; however it is not unusual for both arms to be affected.
What can the patient do?
- Apply ice to the elbow (15 min. up to six times a day). This will help reduce pain and inflammation if present.
- Rest – an extremely important component in the healing of this injury.
- Wear a brace to protect the tendon while healing and strengthening, particularly when returning to work or play.
- A physical therapy program should be carried out to ensure a full recovery.
- Learning new techniques for certain movements; using equipment that best suits your ability, body size, and strength; and limiting activities that require grasping or twisting arm movements.
Treatment at Home vs.Treatment with Medical Assistance
The following symptoms should be discussed with your doctor before initiating any treatment:
- Inability to carry objects or use your arm
- Elbow pain that occurs at night or while resting
- Elbow pain that persists beyond a few days
- Inability to straighten or flex your arm
- Swelling or significant bruising around the joint or arm
- Any other unusual symptoms
What is the outcome?
- 90% to 95% of people with tennis elbow will improve and recover with a prescribed treatment plan.
- About 5% of people will not get better with conservative treatment and will need surgery.
- 80% to 90% of people who have surgery will result in pain relief and return of strength.
Bridget Faucher, PT, DPT, OCS looks forward to treating you to help you gain back function and decrease pain.