Tennis elbow is a pain on the inside of the joint of the arm. It is caused by too much use of your wrist or hand, especially in activities that require you to repeatedly grip or release objects. The condition may be caused by repeated use of tennis, golf, bowling, weightlifting, painting, or other sports and twisting movement of hand. Early symptoms often include pain when you move your wrist up and down or open and close your hand. You may also feel pain when you use your arm or hand for prolonged periods.
What Causes Tennis Elbow?
Tennis elbow is caused by cumulative micro-trauma to the extensor tendon that runs down the forearm. The repetitive movements of certain sports or occupations can lead to muscle fatigue and an increase in collagen degeneration, which is easier for muscles to tear. When these tears happen, they cause inflammation. This process often takes many years of use before symptoms appear.
The pain of tennis elbow is often characterised by aching in the area of the elbow, which can gradually worsen with repeated arm use. The pain is often worse at night when the arm is fully flexed against the body. It’s also common to experience swelling or tightness in the forearm or wrist when affected, as well as numbness to specific sensations, such as touch or cold temperatures.
The diagnosis of tennis elbow is done by checking for tenderness on the outer side of your forearm at the point where the muscle attaches. There are other tests that may be used, but this is one of the most straightforward. You should see a doctor if you have tennis elbow or if it does not get better after a week. The doctor will also take a look at the elbow to see if any swelling or tenderness is present. He or she may be unable to feel the inflammation through your wrist and hand, which is why he or she will check the area with their other hand.
A doctor may also order an X-ray to see if there is any damage in the forearm, especially in people who are older than 40. In rare cases, a doctor may even order an MRI to check for damage in the tendons and ligaments of the elbow.
Tennis elbow, also known as lateral epicondylitis, is a pain on the outside of the elbow due to inflammation on the tendon that connects the forearm muscles to the bony area of the outside of the elbow. It may be caused by repetitive use or injury of the tendon. The treatment options of tennis elbow are largely conservative treatments such as physical therapy, rest, and anti-inflammatory medications. Surgery may also be an option. Physical therapy is an important part of treating tennis elbow and may include:
- Stretching exercises to lengthen your tendons (such as wrist flexion, hyperextension, and ulnar deviation)
- Strengthening exercises to strengthen your injured muscles (examples include wrist flexion with a light weight, and extensor carpi radialis brevis)
- Ultra-sound therapy
- Heat or ice
- Soft tissue massage, including self-massage of the forearm muscles and tendons.
If your tennis elbow is not responding to these treatment options, you may be a candidate for cortisone injections. Corticosteroids, injected into the tendon that is inflamed and causing the pain, will help to reduce the inflammation in your elbow. In some cases, this can provide relief from pain in your tennis elbow immediately.
If you have tried these conservative treatments and are still experiencing pain, you may be a candidate for an arthroscopic surgery. During this procedure, your elbow will be numbed and a small incision made to view the inside of the elbow joint. The surgeon will then use arthroscopic instruments to examine the joint and possibly repair any small tears in the tendon or bone.
After surgery, a sling will be placed on your arm to help keep the elbow joint immobile while it heals. A physical therapist may also be a part of your care management team, helping you regain motion and strength in your elbow.
Lastly, a tennis elbow is a common injury for those who play a lot of tennis or other sports. Proper treatment, such as taking an anti-inflammatory medication, physical therapy and avoiding further contact is essential to recovery.
Tennis elbow will not go away on its own and the only way to recover is with treatment such as taking an anti-inflammatory medication and avoiding contact.