Tennis Elbow is another common overuse injury that can cause some serious pain in your elbow joint. I brought my former Athletic Trainer Rachel in to discuss Shin Splints. Today, the focus is on the elbow joint and figuring out ways to manage, reduce and prevent Tennis Elbow.
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What is Tennis Elbow?
Lateral epicondylitis, I know that this is a mouth full. For us average Joe’s, it is the same as what is referred to in the Medical community as “tennis elbow”. It is usually an overuse injury that occurs at the lateral epicondyle (outside elbow bone) region, particularly involving the extensor tendon attachment site.
“Tennis elbow” is characterized by soreness, tenderness and inflammation of the lateral epicondyle and elbow. Symptoms generally occur in conjunction with arm extension and forearm supination which often includes lifting objects or gripping the hand (shaking hands). And, just because we commonly refer to this condition as “tennis elbow”, it is by no means exclusive to those who play racquet sports. It can affect swimmers, climbers, guitar (or other string instruments) players or those who perform repetitive lifting or rotational motions such as manual laborers.
“Tennis elbow” can be acute but is usually chronic in nature.
The cause of this condition can vary and includes excessive backhand stroke, excessive pronation (forearm rotation to palm down) as well as the use in inappropriately sized sports equipment.
In addition to those causes already mentioned, a direct blow to the epicondyle, a sudden forceful pull, forceful extension or extensor group weakness also play a role in developing “tennis elbow”.
Simple house work can bring on symptoms of “tennis elbow”.
How To Prevent Tennis Elbow
Let’s talk prevention. As stated previously, “tennis elbow” is easier to prevent than it is to treat. Here are a few points that are important to consider/incorporate in order to successfully preventing “tennis elbow” from occurring (or re-occurring):
- Decrease the amount of activity or playing time if you are recovering from “tennis elbow”.
- Seek advice on proper racquet size, weight, string tightness, ball size, grip size, etc.
- Asses stroke technique/mechanic.
- Stay in good, overall shape.
- Stretch wrist extensors, strengthen grip, and strengthen the extensor group as well as the biceps, triceps and deltoids.
- Ice for 15-20min post strenuous elbow activity.
How To Treat Tennis Elbow
Treatment of “tennis elbow” can be tricky. It is easier to prevent said injury than it is to treat it.
First, and foremost, it requires REST. It can easily take 3-4 months to fully heal. Rest, ice and NSAIDS are 1st course of action.
Injecting corticosteroids into the epicondyle/tendon junction often can relieve pain and inflammation. Prolotherapy and Platelet-Rich Plasma (PRP) injections have become popular soft tissue/overuse injury treatments and may be appropriate treatment in this case. Any injectable should only be considered after a considerable rest period has occurred (several weeks). After the pain has subsided, the next treatment phase can start which includes heat, stretching, strengthening, and focusing on mechanics of the wrist/arm and ice.
Strengthening is important for obvious reasons. Stretching is important because we lose flexibility during the acute healing phase of an injury. Faulty technique is often the cause of the initial injury, therefore a focus on proper mechanics needs to be stressed before a full return to activity can be allowed.
If any of these phases of treatment are left out, another injury can occur.
At any point during this long process, don’t be afraid to seek help from a local health care provider (M.D, D.O, Therapist, Athletic Trainer, or Chiropractor).
“Tennis elbow” can be a long and daunting process to get through, any resources you have at your disposal will only benefit you in the long run.
Rachel Johnson MS, ATC
St. Cloud State University
Thanks Rachel. If you have tennis elbow my best piece of advice is to give it some rest. After a few weeks if there is still pain then other treatment options should be considered.