What Causes Tennis Elbow?
Although it is referred to as tennis elbow, this condition is not exclusive to tennis players. Lateral epicondylitis, better known as tennis elbow, is a muscle strain injury that is typically caused from overuse. A repeated contraction of the muscles in the forearm which are used to straighten and raise the hand and wrist can cause this condition. Small tears may develop in the tendons that attach the muscles of the forearm to the bony prominence at the outside of the elbow. This injury is a form of tendinitis. Repeated use of the backhand stroke in tennis, particularly with poor form, can lead to this injury. Additional repeated movements such as computer mouse use, painting, driving screws, using plumbing tools, and cutting ingredients in the kitchen, mainly meats, can also cause tennis elbow. Adults between the ages of 30 and 50 are most likely to experience this, especially if they are in a career where these repetitive motions play a large role in their day-to-day activities. Athletes in racket sports (tennis), butchers, chefs, plumbers, painters, and carpenters are often seen with tennis elbow.
One of the most common symptoms associated with tennis elbow is pain and tenderness on the outside, bony portion of the elbow. That protruding knob part of the elbow is where the injured tendons connect to the bone. Individuals are most likely to experience pain when doing things with their hands: lifting, making a fist, gripping an object such as a tennis racket, opening a door, shaking hands, raising a hand, or straightening a wrist. When these symptoms subside and there is no longer pain with movement, tenderness, or swelling, then the injury has likely healed.
Treatments For Tennis Elbow
Tennis elbow is typically an acute pain that is highly treatable. Once diagnosed, there are several methods of treatment that are easy to implement:
- Icing the elbow for 20-30 minutes every 3-4 hours helps reduce swelling and inflammation.
- Over the counter Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications such as Ibuprofen, Acetaminophen, Naproxen, or Aspirin can also help with pain and swelling.
- Some physicians may recommend physical therapy to help strengthen and stretch the muscles.
- Physicians may be able to offer steroid injections to help ease pain and inflammation. Corticosteroids such as prednisone help to quickly fight off inflammation in the body. A steroid injection would occur at the injury site and provides temporary relief. Steroid injections are not recommended as a long-term treatment.
If you think you may have tennis elbow, talk to your doctor about the pain you are experiencing. They will do a physical exam and ask you to flex your arm, wrist, and elbow to better identify trigger points. Your doctor may also order an MRI in order to confirm a diagnosis and rule-out any additional underlying problems. Know that tennis elbow is not a permanent or life-threatening condition and with the right forms of treatment, it is highly reversible.