What is tennis elbow?
Tennis elbow, also known as lateral epicondylitis, is a painful condition that develops when too much strain is placed upon the tendons within the elbow. This can be caused by repetitive movements in the arm and wrist.
Tennis elbow can affect anyone, but people who are more likely to be affected include thise whose jobs involved repetitive movements, such as plumbers, painters, carpenters and butchers.
The pain usually starts on the outside of the elbow where the tendons of the forearm muscles are joined to a bony lump on the outside of the elbow. The pain can also affect the rest of the forearm and the wrist.
Tennis elbow can often be managed with conservative treatment such as rest and over the counter medication, but in cases where this does not provide relief, surgery may be recommended.
Common signs and symptoms of tennis elbow
Pain in the bony bump outside your elbow is the most common symptom. Usually, it evolves gradually over time and it may radiate from the elbow to the rest of your forearm. It is likely to be worsened when:
- Shaking and stretching hands
- Turning doorknobs
- Holding small objects
Common causes of tennis elbow
Tennis elbow appears as a consequence of overuse and repeated activity of your forearm, particularly activities that involved the use of a backhand stroke, as in tennis. These repeated motions can cause the muscles to develop tiny tears in the tendon that runs from your forearm to the bony lump on the elbow.
Despite its name, it affects more people than just athletes. Other professions and activities that can cause tennis elbow to develop include:
- Computer use
There are generally three main risk factors which can increase a person’s chance of developing tennis elbow:
- Age – adults between the ages of 30 and 50 are more likely to get tennis elbow than younger people
- Occupation – people who have jobs that involve repetitive arm and wrist movements can be prone to tennis elbow
- Racket sports – as with the name, those who play racket sports such as tennis may be at risk of tennis elbow, especially if they play with poor formju
Diagnosing tennis elbow
Your doctor will begin by performing a physical examination. This will involve apply pressure to your elbow and forearm to check for tenderness and asking you to move your wrist and arm. Often, this examination along with reviewing your medical history will be enough to diagnose the condition. However, if your doctor suspects that something else may be causing your symptoms, they may suggest imaging tests such as x-rays or other types of scans.
Treating tennis elbow
Tennis elbow usually improves on its own. In most cases, self-care techniques can help to relieve symptoms.
- Rest –stop any activities or movements that are causing pain
- Over-the-counter pain relief – such as an anti-inflammatory
- Ice – apply ice to the area for 15 minutes three to four times a day
- Technique – ensure that during activities and sports, you are using the proper techniques and avoiding repetitive motions where possible
Most of the time, conservative treatment will yield successful results. But if it does not appear to be working for you, some other non-surgical options include:
- Physiotherapy – a course of physiotherapy may be helpful in allowing you to identify the repetitive movements or strain that is causing your symptoms. Your physiotherapist can assess your movements and guide you on how to adapt. They will also show you certain exercise which can help to improve the strength and muscle tone in your arm. Your physiotherapist may even recommend that you wear a forearm strap to reduce the strain on your arm and elbow.
- Injections directly into the elbow – Injection therapy involves the use of specific materials to help relieve the condition.
- Ultrasonic tenotomy (TENEX procedure) – using an ultrasound for guidance, your doctor will insert a needle into the damaged area of the tendon. The ultrasonic energy vibrates at a speed high enough to cause the damaged tissue to liquefy. Your doctor can then suction this out.
If after 6 to 12 months of previous treatments, no evidence of improvement is shown, your doctor may recommend a surgical procedure to repair the small tendons that are damaged, and/or remove the damaged tissue in your elbow’s tendons and muscles. This could be done via two surgical methods, open surgery or arthroscopic (keyhole) surgery.
After surgery, resting for about 1-2 weeks is required before starting the rehabilitative physiotherapy to restore your elbow’s flexibility and motion.
The complete recovery period will be different for each person. Generally, it takes about four to six months of physiotherapy to recover the entire function of your forearm and return to your daily activities.
Even though surgery is successful in more than 90% of patients, acquiring the condition again is possible. Particularly if physiotherapy and the recovery time is not adhered to.
Tennis elbow is a painful inflammation that typically develops as a result of overuse of the tendons in your arms or some type of trauma. It mostly affects tennis players if the player grips or holds their racket too tight, thus the name of the ailment. However, tennis elbow is not just a tennis issue as it can affect people other than sportspeople, such as butchers, painters, and carpenters. Tennis elbow can affect anyone at any age, but adults between the ages of 30 and 50 are more prone to get it.
Recurrent pain right below the elbow bend on the outside of the upper forearm is the most typical sign of tennis elbow. Additionally, pain may be felt further down your arm close to your wrist.
Surgery may be advised by your doctor if; elbow pain prevents you from performing your job or other regular tasks, your elbow pain persists despite receiving corticosteroid injections, when there are significant tears in the tendon as a result of a critical injury or if after more than 6 months to a year of tendon rest and physical therapy, you still experience elbow pain.
Tennis elbow may recover on its own if you follow conservative treatment methods including extra-corporeal shock wave therapy (ESWT), taking anti-inflammatories, getting physiotherapy, and changing your activity levels. If you become aware of the behaviors that are aggravating or causing their pain and change these activities, you will be allowing the problem to find a solution. Nearly 90% to 95% of tennis elbow injuries could get well on their own. Nevertheless, if the issue worsens and is neglected for a long time, it could cause a complicated injury that eventually causes early-onset osteoarthritis.
Tennis elbow poultices are seldom successful in treating the condition. Poultices cannot be a form of treatment, not because they don’t work at all, but because they are not anticipated to be effective, particularly for those who have acute symptoms. Seeing a specialist is highly advised.
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