Understanding Tennis Elbow with Lacey Physical Therapist, Tracey Rodriguez

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Tracey Rodriguez Lacey Physical Therapist explains Tennis Elbow

One of the most common causes of elbow pain is called Lateral Epicondylitis or Tennis Elbow. Whether it’s due to a sudden trauma or the result of repetitive strain, once damaged, the elbow can be incredibly resistant to healing. Patients with Tennis Elbow rarely take the time necessary to rest their elbow so it can heal completely.

Tennis elbow affects 1% to 3% of the population overall and as many as 50% of tennis players during their careers. Less than 5% of all tennis elbow diagnoses are related to actually playing tennis.

Tennis elbow affects men more than women and usually affects the dominant arm. It most often affects people between the ages of 30 and 50, although people of any age can be affected.

Although tennis elbow commonly affects tennis players, it also affects other athletes and people who participate in leisure or work activities that require repetitive arm, elbow, wrist, and hand movement, especially while tightly gripping something. Examples include baseball players, bowlers, gardeners or landscapers, house or office cleaners (because of  the repetitive nature of vacuuming, sweeping, and scrubbing), carpenters, mechanics, and assembly-line workers.

Tennis Elbow is a form of tendinosis which means chronic degeneration of the tendon or tendons. You will have swelling and tenderness on and around the tendons that attach to the small bony part on the outside of your elbow (lateral epicondyle). Tennis Elbow tendinosis is commonly caused from the overuse of the tendons located in your forearm that help to extend your wrist and fingers. The wear and tear on these tendons is a result of small tears in your tissue that don’t heal properly. The inability of your tendon to heal properly causes the tendons to weaken until the tissues become very thin, and eventually wear out.

Symptoms of tennis elbow include:

Pain slowly increasing around the outside of the elbow. Less often, pain may develop suddenly.

Pain is worse when shaking hands or squeezing objects or using the mouse or keyboard.

Pain is made worse by stabilizing or moving the wrist with force. Examples include lifting, carrying grandkids, using tools, opening jars, or even handling simple utensils such as a toothbrush or knife and fork.

It is EXTREMELY important to address your symptoms immediately when you start to feel the pain to avoid it becoming a chronic injury which is much harder to treat.

Watch this video for tips on how to calm your tennis elbow symptoms:

If you seek out medical attention your doctor may treat it conservatively with anti-inflammatory medications, a topical anti-inflammatory cream, or a brace to absorb the shock through the inflamed tissue. Depending on the severity, you may benefit from a cortisone injection.

You may be referred to physical therapy which will be extremely helpful in facilitating your healing. Along with giving you stretching and strengthening exercises, they will perform manual techniques such as massage and soft tissue mobilization to allow for increased blood flow to the affected area to promote healing and reduce pain. Modalities such as ultrasound and electric stimulation as well as iontophoresis may be beneficial as well.

Avoid activities that Caused Your Injury – While resting your elbow it’s also important to avoid all activities that may have caused your tennis elbow (especially any repetitive arm, hand or wrist movement). Continuing on with regular activities will not only make your injury worse, but can add a significant amount of time to the healing process.

If symptoms are persistent contact your doctor who will most likely treat you conservatively with anti-inflammatory medications, a topical anti-inflammatory cream, or a brace to absorb the shock through the inflamed tissue. Depending on the severity, you may benefit from a cortisone injection.

You may be referred to physical therapy which will be extremely helpful in facilitating your healing or you can contact your local physical therapist directly.