What is tennis elbow?
Tennis elbow, or it’s official name lateral epicondylitis is when pain or irritation is felt in the tissue that connects the forearm muscle to the elbow. It can be caused by repetitive wrist and arm motion which is common in sports like Tennis, hence the name “Tennis Elbow”. It is also seen more commonly with tradespeople such as painters, plumbers and carpenters.
What causes tennis elbow?
Tennis elbow is an overuse injury. It typically occurs when more repetition or force is applied to the area than the body can handle. It can also occur after banging or knocking your elbow. This causes inflammation or tiny tears near the bony lump in your elbow (lateral epicondyle) which then produce the pain associated with tennis elbow.
There are many factors that can cause tennis elbow including:
- Poor strength in the forearm muscles.
- Tight forearm muscles.
- Lots of repetitive movements the body isn’t used to i.e painting a house or hammering nails.
- Excessive gripping i.e clenching of the forearm muscles.
What are the symptoms?
Patients with tennis elbow will typically experience pain when gripping or when performing a resisted wrist/finger extension. Despite the pain in the elbow, most elbow movements will be pain-free but there will be tenderness in the body lateral epicondyle. There may also be pain in the wrist muscles.
How can physiotherapy help?
As with any pain, correct diagnosis is important to ensure the symptoms are consistent with tennis elbow and not any other condition.
Physiotherapy can help diagnose, reduce pain in the elbow, facilitate repair and address any movement patterns that may aggravate the condition.
Treatment for tennis elbow can often include mobilisation of the elbow joint, muscle stretching, elbow kinesio taping, massage and exercises for strengthening the joint. In some instances, a tennis elbow brace may be recommended to help with rehabilitation.
How do you prevent tennis elbow?
It is difficult to prevent tennis elbow. Not putting a strain on the tendons in the elbow will help to avoid the condition and prevent the symptoms from getting worse.
Other than stopping the activity that causes the pain, there are some other measures you can take to help prevent it recurring. These are:
- Spread the load. Tennis elbow is often due to repetition. If possible, try to spread the load on the affected joint by using other muscles or a different technique that uses more shoulder or upper arm muscles.
- Warm up properly. A proper warm-up and gently stretch of the arm muscles prior to the activity can help avoid injury.
- Use a lighter racquet or different grip. A lighter racquet or larger hand grip can help reduce stress on your elbow tendons.
- Increase forearm muscle strength. Stronger forearms can take some of the pressure off the affected tendons. Your physiotherapist can demonstrate exercises you can do to help achieve this.
- Improve your technique. Often tennis elbow can be put down to poor technique. If your condition is from sporting activity, try getting some coaching advice on the correct technique that will reduce pressure on the elbow.