Tennis elbow is a painful condition that occurs when the tendons in the elbow are overworked, usually by repetitive motions of the wrist and arm. In simple terms elbow pain caused due to the overuse of arm and forearm muscles is commonly referred to as tennis elbow.
This problem could be significant in tennis players but does not mean that only tennis players can develop this problem. In fact, it is seen that only about 5% of patients suffering from tennis elbow play tennis. Many occupations wherein the wrist and arm are used repetitively could also cause tennis elbow.
Also known as golfer's elbow or medically as epicondylitis, the pain occurs in the area where the muscles and tendons of the forearm attach to the outside bony area of the elbow called the lateral epicondyle. Tennis elbow affects men more than women. This condition is common in people aged between 30 and 50, although people of any age can be affected.
Tennis elbow causes
- When the muscles in the forearm attached to the bone on the outside of the elbow are used over and over again, small tears develop in the tendon. This causes pain and irritation.
- Playing a lot of tennis or any sport that uses racquet.
- Too many backhand strokes.
- Any activity that involves twisting the wrist too much. People in professions like painting, plumbing, cooking, etc can develop this condition.
- Regular use of computer keyboard and mouse.
Tennis elbow diagnosis
- Tennis elbow is diagnosed based on the signs and symptoms as described by the patient.
- The physician examines the patient. Pain or tenderness is felt when the physician presses the area around the affected area.
- X-rays are usually nor required as it would reveal normal bone structure.
Tennis elbow treatment
In most cases, rest is suggested for the arm. External application of ice also eases the pain. NSAIDs are often prescribed. For those suffering from tennis elbow due to computer usage, it is recommended to flex the hands, especially the wrist often during the day. If your tendon is severely damaged, your physician might advice surgery. But very few people need surgical treatment.
Physical Therapy for Tennis Elbow
Physical therapy focuses on stretching and arm movements which in turn help to strengthen the muscle. Physiotherapy is the most widely recommended treatment for tennis elbow. Important physiotherapy treatments include:
Massage Therapy: Gentle massage over the affected area helps in increasing blood circulation. It also quickens the natural healing capacity of the muscles and tendons.
Manual Therapy: Manual therapy involves applying pressure on muscles, careful pulling, pushing of bones and joints for proper alignment. This helps in mobilizing the affected area and increasing their flexibility.
Electrical Stimulation: Electrical stimulation including transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), involving the use of electric current to transfer energy to the affected area. The electric current masks the pain and provides pain relief.
Ultrasound: Ultrasound treatment is application of heat on the affected area. The heat applied helps improve proper blood circulation and helps in strengthening the affected muscles and tendons.
Healing tennis elbow
Specific physical-therapy exercises to stretch and strengthen muscles and tendons around the injured elbow are suggested. The muscles of the forearm have to be strengthened. Activity that aggravates the pain must be avoided.
Cure for tennis elbow
It is preferable to consult your physician at the earliest, as the pain with tennis elbow tends to worsen over time. Cease activities that can aggravate the condition for the initial suggested period. In case of persistent pain, the doctor might advice corticosteroid injections.
Tennis elbow exercises
Allow for about 5 minutes of gentle movements to allow your muscles to warm up and adjust to the strains. Avoid repeated activity for long stretches.
Stretching exercises for tennis elbow
Bend your wrist forward and backward as far as you can for 3 sets of 10.
With the help of the normal hand, bend the injured wrist downwards by pressing the back of your hand and holding it down for 15 to 30 seconds. Now stretch the hand backwards by pressing the fingers in the backward direction. Hold for 15 to 30 seconds and for 3 sets. Remember to keep your elbow straight during this exercise.
Bend your elbow to 90°, turn your palm upward and hold for 5 seconds. Slowly turn your palm downward and hold for 5 seconds. Keep elbow at your side and bent at 90° throughout this exercise for 3 sets of 10.
Tennis elbow exercises to strengthen elbow
Hold a can or hammer handle in your hand, palm facing up. Bend wrist upward. Slowly lower the weight and return to the starting position. Do 3 sets of 10. Gradually increase weight of the can or the weight you are holding.
Hold a soup can or hammer handle in your hand, palm facing down. Slowly bend your wrist upward. Slowly lower the weight down into the starting position for 3 sets of 10. Gradually increase the weight of the object you are holding.
Put your wrist in the sideways position, thumb up. Hold a soup can or a hammer handle and gently bend your wrist up, thumb pointing towards the ceiling. Slowly lower to the starting position. Do not move your forearm throughout this exercise.
Wrist extensions (with broom handle): Stand up and hold a broom handle in both hands. Hold your arms at shoulder level, elbows should be straight and palms should face down; roll the broom handle backward into your hand as if you are rolling something in using the broom handle.
Tennis elbow brace
Using elbow strap/braces
- Slide the elbow strap up your arm.
- Position the strap about one inch below the elbow.
- If the strap has a little air bubble, a gel pillow, a pad, etc to put pressure on a specific point of the elbow, make sure that this piece is positioned slightly below the elbow where the pain is felt the most.
- Tighten the strap securely, ensuring that it does not cut off circulation.
- Wear the elbow strap as much as possible. It can be worn while sleeping too.
- Wearing the elbow strap reduces the stress to the tendons.
Benefits of tennis elbow strap/braces
- Economical, simple yet effective.
- Effective when painful gripping gets to limit activities.
- Available with Velcro, fitting gets perfect with adjustments.
Tennis elbow support
- A tennis elbow support as the name indicates provides support and protection to the elbow joint.
- A tennis elbow support can also be a heat retainer. Apart from offering support, it also helps in retaining the heat produced by the body. Blood circulation is improved. As blood circulation improvises, the healing is accelerated.
- An elbow support or a heat retainer can aid recovery but ensure not to rely on it for long as this can lead to muscle wastage around the joint.
- Use the to heal and provide additional support during rehabilitation.