Clinically known as lateral epicondylalgia or previously epicondylitis, tennis elbow causes pain to the outside aspect of the elbow. Tennis elbow is caused by repetitive strain or loading as with swinging a tennis racquet but curiously this is not the most common cause. The causes can be many and varied.
What is Tennis Elbow?
Repetitive strain and overuse of the tendons around the elbow joint cause them to become hypersensitive and at times inflamed. When overuse occurs, the tendons begin to adapt and change to the excessive loading in a way that is abnormal and pain around the elbow is often the result. The most common tendon injury to the elbow is on the lateral side and is known as ‘tennis elbow’. The same kind of injury can also occur on the inside of the elbow and is known as ‘golfer’s elbow’. Despite the name, tennis elbow can occur as a result of a variety of activities including; rowing, weightlifting, racquet sports, swimming and repetitive work from certain occupations. Understanding tennis elbow, the reasons it occurs and the tissue type involved can be very helpful when it comes to injury management for the patient.
There are two bumps at the elbow joint that can be felt when bending the arm. Tennis elbow is associated with an irritation of the tendons which anchor the forearm muscles to the bump on the outside of the elbow joint. This bump on the outside is called the lateral epicondyle. The muscles which are responsible for bending the wrist backwards are anchored to this point. This is the area responsible for tennis elbow.
What are the Symptoms?
The symptoms of tennis elbow are often pain on the outside of the elbow which radiates to the forearm and wrist. The pain can come on gradually and is made worse by repetitive tasks. In more severe cases there may be swelling, and daily activities such as carrying grocery bags or lifting saucepans may be painful and become limited. There may also be associated neck symptoms as some patients have neck stiffness and pain that is either causing or contributing to tennis elbow.
Tennis Elbow Treatment
Physio for tennis elbow is shown to be an effective treatment in the short and long-term. Physiotherapy can help with reducing elbow pain and assisting in the repair of tissue. Physio for tennis elbow also aims to restore normal joint range of motion, strength, function and muscle length.
To achieve these goals a physiotherapist will do a thorough assessment of the elbow, neck and arm. Treatment is individualised and based on the best strategies to suit the patient’s lifestyle and symptoms. Treatment may include the following:
- Elbow taping
- Muscle stretches
- Gentle mobilisation of neck and elbow joints
- Neural mobilisation
- Muscle strengthening
- Dry needling
- Specific wrist extension exercises
Evidence has shown that physiotherapy is the most effective way to treat tennis elbow compared to other methods. If left untreated, tennis elbow can last up to two years and has a high incidence of recurrence. The majority of patients show a significant improvement within three weeks of beginning tennis elbow treatment with a qualified and experience physio.
Tennis Elbow Prevention
To prevent an elbow injury always warm up and cool down when participating in sporting activities. Also don’t increase your training load too quickly. Strengthening exercises and movement retraining at the wrist, shoulder, scapula (shoulder blade) and neck can help prevent an elbow injury. A Como physio can help with this. Reducing repetitive tasks where possible is also important, modifying movements or improving ergonomics to avoid putting excessive pressure on the muscles in the forearm can also help to reduce the risk of injury.