"Tennis elbow" is the common term for a painful medical condition called lateral epicondylitis. The primary cause of tennis elbow is repetitive movement of the forearm, hand, wrist, and elbow, often while tightly gripping an object. The forearm muscles and tendons outside of the epicondylitis - the elbow joint – become inflamed and injured from overuse. Tennis elbow occurs most often in the patient’s dominant arm, but can occur in the non-dominant arm or even both arms.
Although the condition is associated with tennis players, about 95% of diagnosed cases have little or nothing to do with playing tennis. Auto mechanics, baseball players, construction workers, assembly-line workers, and other people who engage in repetitive arm movements are typically susceptible to tennis elbow.
Tennis elbow occurs most often in people 30 to 50 years of age, and men are at a slightly increased risk of developing the condition. But anyone can get tennis elbow if the risk factors are sufficiently present.
The symptoms of tennis elbow develop gradually. In most cases, the pain begins as mild and slowly worsens over time. Patients seldom report 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 at a slowly increasing rate
- Pain increases with gripping and squeezing objects
- Pain is worsened by applying force to or torqueing the wrist or elbow, such as when using mechanical tools, lifting objects, opening jars, or even brushing one’s teeth.
- The symptoms are often compounded with forearm activity, such as gripping a handle, turning a wrench, or even twisting a doorknob.
- Weak grip strength is a common result of tennis elbow as well.
So what are the treatment alternatives? Medical professionals typically recommend nonsurgical treatment by a qualified physical therapist. With a success rate of up to 95%, this is usually as far as a patient needs to go for healing.
Non-surgical treatment typically involves several important steps to recovery:
- First, the injured arm requires proper rest. This means that you will have to stop heavy work activities and participation in sports or for several weeks.
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIDS). Over-the-counter pain relievers, such as aspirin or ibuprofen to reduce pain and swelling are recommended.
- Bracing the elbow. Using a brace on the affected area may help relieve the symptoms of tennis elbow by resting the muscles and tendons.
- Physical therapy. Your therapist may recommend specific exercises to strengthen the muscles, ligaments, and tendons of the forearm. He may also use ice massage, ultrasound, or muscle-stimulating techniques to promote healing.
- Steroid injections, such as cortisone, are very effective anti-inflammatory medicines. Your doctor will have to prescribe and administer these injections if he decides it is medically necessary or other treatments have not been effective in relieving the symptoms.
There are other methods of non-surgical treatment that may also be attempted if conventional methods have proven ineffective, but many are still in the experimental stage for now.
If, after 6 to 12 months of non-surgical methods of treatment have not worked, your doctor may decide a more aggressive approach is required and may recommend surgery.
If you are experiencing elbow pain, don’t wait for your family physician; visit Excel Rehabilitation Services on Burnside Ave. in Gonzales, Louisiana. You just can’t beat a 95% success rate!
American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS): http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=a00068
Mayo Clinic: http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/tennis-elbow/home/ovc-20206011
WebMD, Inc.: http://www.webmd.com/osteoarthritis/guide/tennis-elbow#1