Tennis elbow – what is it? Tennis elbow is a term used to describe a condition called lateral epicondylitis. It is specific to the outside of the elbow where the muscles and tendons attach to the bone. Tennis elbow is not exclusive to tennis players, anyone who does repetitive movements with their arms and forearms could get it, however it is estimated between 40-50% of tennis players will experience it sometime during their career.
Symptoms: Pain around the outside of the elbow, pain is worse during gripping tasks. Pain may also be present when the muscles are stretched. Pain when performing the movements that caused the injury e.g., forehand shot with wrist movement. Other elbow movements may be pain free.
What causes it? Tennis elbow results from either sudden or subtle injury to the muscles and tendons around the outside of the elbow, it commonly comes from overuse of the arm, forearm and hand muscles. Repeating the same movements over and over again can cause overuse. If you are a tennis player with tennis elbow, these factors may be contributing to it:
Treatment: Tennis elbow treatment is most often successful. The most important part of treatment is tendon rest. A long rest from aggravating activity allows the small tears in the tendon to heal. Depending on how severe your condition is, you may need to rest your tendon for weeks to months. Surgery is a last resort if other treatment isn’t helpful.
Initial home treatment
Treatment for tennis elbow works best when it starts as soon as symptoms appear. If your condition is just starting, rest may be all you need. But in most cases, more treatment is needed to protect and heal the tendon.
You can treat your tennis elbow by:
Reducing the pain with the use of ice or cold packs for 10 to 15 minutes at a time, several times a day. Always put a thin cloth between the ice and your skin. Keep using ice as long as it relieves pain. Or use a warm, moist cloth or take hot baths if they feel good. Do what works for you. Talk to your pharmacist or doctor about pain relief medication.
Stopping or changing activities that may irritate the tendon. Learn new techniques for certain movements, and use different equipment that may reduce the stress on your forearm muscles.
If the pain is severe and ongoing a correct assessment by your doctor or physiotherapist is required to establish the underlying cause and origin of your tennis elbow. An ultrasound scan or MRI are the best tests to identify any tendon tears or inflammation. X-rays are of little diagnostic benefit.
A significant percentage of tennis elbow sufferers may feel pain in the lateral elbow, but not actually be experiencing tennis elbow. There is a high incidence of lateral elbow pain that is referred to your elbow from a cervical spine (neck) injury.
Once a correct diagnosis is made, professional treatment may include:
How to avoid it: The best way to prevent tennis elbow is to stretch and strengthen your arm, shoulder and upper back muscles so that they are flexible and strong enough for your activities and to help take stress off of your elbow.
Other ways to prevent tennis elbow include:
Remember to warm-up and perform stretching exercises including the arms, shoulders and wrist before undertaking every tennis activity including practice sessions and social play.
Use the correct techniques and movements during activities. A qualified tennis coach can be helpful to check your grip and your stroke production.
Use a racquet that is appropriate for your ability, body size, and body strength. A too heavy or too light a racquet may be influencing stresses to the arm and shoulder muscles and joints. Also seek professional advice on string tension for your style of game.
Avoid over-repetition of any one type of shot. Practise a range of tennis strokes including ground strokes, serves, return of serves, overhead smashes and volleys.
Not overusing your arm with repeated movements in other daily activities that can injure your tendon. Try alternating hands during these activities, if possible.
If you suspect you have sustained an injury or are suffering prolonged pain in any part of your body please consult with your health care professional as soon as possible. Early treatment is the key to early recovery.
Happy hitting and cheers for now.
References, sources & further information at webmd.com, physioworks.com.au
Sandie Bennett is a qualified sports and remedial massage therapist with over 10 years experience. She is also a qualified personal trainer and sports trainer with 17 years experience. Sandie has previous experience as a sports therapist at events such as the Australian Ironman events; Australian Indoor Cricket; NSW Indoor Sports; and is also the trainer for Australia’s #1 female wheelchair tennis player, Janel Manns.
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