Tennis elbow is a painful, definitely annoying and often debilitating condition, where pain is experienced to the outside of the elbow. The medical term is “Lateral Epicondylitis”.
It tends to occur with repeated use of the forearm muscles, like gripping a tennis racket, and playing vigorously and often. Hence the term “Tennis Elbow”. It is generally experienced more by the 40-60 age group and is basically an ‘overuse’ injury.
If you are wondering whether you are experiencing Tennis Elbow, ask yourself the following questions:
Is the pain on the outside of your upper forearm, just below your elbow?
Do you feel the pain when lifting and bending, or fully extending your arm?
Perhaps you can even feel it being aggravated when holding a small object like a pen?
What about gripping firmly and twisting an object, like a door handle or a twist bottle-top or when opening a jar?
These would all be classic signs or symptoms of Tennis Elbow.
So, what causes Tennis Elbow?
Basically, when we use and bend the elbow, the forearm muscles are pulling on the tendons that insert on the bone. By repetitively overusing these muscles the tendons become strained and tiny tears and inflammation can result in a painful bony lump (the lateral epicondyle) on the outside of your elbow.
Tennis Elbow is typically caused by playing tennis as the name suggests, but anything that causes repeated gripping stress on the elbow joint can cause the same symptoms. For example, carpenters often suffer this problem from gripping their tools, as might a violinist after hours of practice.
What about Golfer's Elbow?
Some people develop pain on the inner side of the elbow. This has a similar cause and it is a similar type of pain, and is simply due to a different gripping action and movement of the elbow. As the name suggests, this often occurs to golfers who grip their clubs in a certain manner and it can be just as uncomfortable and debilitating. This would be known medically as “Medial Epicondylitis”.
Why are these conditions difficult to heal from?
They are caused by something we do repetitively and don’t want to stop doing – eg work or pleasure.
We constantly aggravate them just by living our lives and using our arms.
The inflamed, damaged tendons tend to have a pretty poor blood supply so healing takes more time.
Tennis elbow tends to go away by itself if you can rest the involved joint for long enough, however this could take many months and even up to a year. To reduce the pain and speed the healing you can apply an ice pack wrapped in a tea-towel for up to 10 minutes a few times a day to reduce the inflammation.
If the problem persists then a visit to a rehab-specialist will definitely help. Using a variety of methods they will speed up your recovery by restoring function, relieving stiffness and improving blood supply. Gentle focussed massage and manipulation of the joints, together with the correct exercises and any supporting bracing if required, will get you back in the game as quickly as possible.
Your GP may suggest steroid injections, local anaesthetics or even surgery but these invasive
approaches should be considered last resort.