Tennis Elbow: What you need to know

Overview of tennis elbow

Tennis elbow, or lateral epicondylitis, is characterised by tenderness and pain on the outside of the elbow. This pain is the result of inflammation of the elbow joint caused by repetitive stress (overuse). Tennis elbow pain can also refer down the back of your forearm, especially when you straighten your arm.

Symptoms

The symptoms of tennis elbow extend beyond just pain; here are the most common that you will experience:

Causes of tennis elbow

Six primary muscles control the posterior compartment of the forearm, allowing for movements such as rotation and lifting. These muscles attach to the lateral aspect of the forearm at the elbow joint via tendons. The primary muscle that is involved in tennis elbow is extensor carpi radialis brevis (ECRB).

When ECRB and other muscles of the forearm are overused and overworked, there is a breakdown of those muscles. This breakdown causes inflammation which is what results in pain.

Many things can lead to tennis elbow; it is the repetition that is the common factor. Common causes include:

Diagnosis

Your physiotherapist will most commonly diagnose tennis elbow during a physical examination. The process involves understanding your history; what sports you play, your work environment and any other factors that may be relevant to your injury.

Following a subjective examination, your physio will perform a physical exam, with a few simple tests to diagnose the problem. If following this, the physiotherapist is still unsure; they may send you for imaging to confirm their diagnosis.

Treatment

Approximately 85% of all tennis elbow can be managed without surgical intervention. There are some simple things that you should do immediately to aid your recovery.

  1. Rest: This is crucial in allowing the muscles of the forearm to recover and heal. Rest doesn't mean "do nothing", but just resting from the most aggravating activities for your elbow.

  2. Ice: Ice packs can provide some excellent pain relief in the short term.

  3. Stretches: You can do some gentle forearm stretches at home, which may also help with pain relief in the short term.

  4. Bracing: There are many tennis elbow braces on the market that can provide relief and comfort whilst still maintaining your activities. These can be especially helpful for people who are suffering tennis elbow pain at work.

What can physiotherapy do?

Physiotherapists are highly skilled in the diagnosis and treatment of tennis elbow. There are many tools in their toolbox which can help you recover and get back to your active self.

Treatment will be a combination of:

To get the best outcome, your physio will provide you with some exercises to do in between treatment sessions. It would help if you did these exercises for the best results.

Recovering from tennis elbow

Recovery time for injuries is always hard to gauge; many factors will influence how quickly you can get better. Mild cases of tennis elbow that are treated early and quickly can recover relatively quickly, whereas persistent cases that have become more chronic can take a lot longer.

The primary factors that affect recovery time are:

Prevention

If you're reading this article, then perhaps it is already too late for prevention. However, we can all agree that it would be much nicer if we never had to deal with tennis elbow in the first place.

Here are the key things to avoiding tennis elbow.

  1. Avoid excessive lifting.

  2. Ensure adequate forearm strength.

  3. When beginning any new activity like tennis, build up rather than playing too intensely in the beginning.

  4. Maintain good health and fitness.

  5. Take breaks from repetitive work.

Your physiotherapist will provide you with guidance on what exercises are best to prevent tennis elbow.

FAQs

What is the best treatment for tennis elbow?

Physiotherapy is the most effective treatment option for tennis elbow. IT will help accelerate your recovery, provide you with effective exercises and teach you how to prevent it coming back in the future.

What does tennis elbow feel like?

Tennis elbow usually feels like a dull ache at a localised spot in the elbow. It is on the outside of the elbow, right near your elbow crease. Over time the pain can increase and also spread, radiating down the forearm and sometimes into the hand.

How can I get rid of tennis elbow fast?

If you want to get rid of tennis elbow fast, then listen to your physiotherapist’s advice. Rest, ICE and stretch to allow the tendons to heal as quickly as possible.

Is massage good for tennis elbow?

Massage can be an effective tool for pain relief and recovery from tennis elbow. It can allow the tendons to heal much faster than rest alone. It may also enhance circulation and improve blood flow which can help in the recovery process.

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