What is tennis elbow?
Tennis elbow, also known as lateral epicondylitis, is a repetitive motion injury that causes elbow pain and limited range of motion. As the name implies, it is common among tennis players but it can also develop as a result of any activity that involves frequent elbow movements. Since our elbow joint undergoes significant strain on a daily basis, tennis elbow is a frequently occurring injury among both athletes and people who work in jobs that involve manual labor.
Tennis elbow is a highly manageable injury and it is possible to find treatment that can improve long-term elbow and arm function while relieving pain. At USA Spine Care, we believe in helping people learn about the causes of pain and the therapeutic options available. To learn more or get answers to any questions about the following guide, please get in touch with our dedicated team at any time.
What causes tennis elbow?
In either arm, the elbow joint connects the upper arm to the lower arms enabling the basic bending motion needed to perform a wide range of everyday activities. The elbow joint basically consists of three bones — the upper arm and two bones in the forearm. The muscles and tendons in the forearm are connected to bony knobs on the upper arm called epicondyles. Every time the arm is bent, these tendons stretch against the bones in the elbow joint.
With overuse due to strenuous activities or repetitive motions, the tendons in the forearm muscles can develop small tears and become inflamed. A common contributor to tennis is believed to be a stabilizing muscle in the wrist that can become easily fatigued and increase the strain on the forearm tendons.
Along with swinging a tennis racket, motions that involve arm rotation or bending, such as painting, using plumbing tools or hammering nails, can all increase the risk of lateral epicondylitis. This is why this condition is so common among the following professions:
- Carpenters and construction workers
- Factory workers
- Chefs and butchers
- Professional athletes
Tennis elbow is most common among people aged 30 to 50, although since it is an activity-related injury, it is possible for people of any age who perform repetitive elbow motions to be at risk.
Symptoms of tennis elbow
As a progressive repetitive motion injury, tennis elbow symptoms can come about gradually. The pain and inflammation caused by fully developed tennis elbow results in symptoms that can be very painful and limit range of motion. The most commonly reported symptoms include:
- A burning pain on the outside of the elbow
- Pain and soreness in the forearm
- Weakness in the hand that affects the ability to grip and turn objects
- Some tennis elbow sufferers report night pain
For any minor elbow or arm pain, resting, using an ice pack and taking over-the-counter medication if needed is the initial treatment recommendation. If the pain persists for longer than a few days, or suddenly worsens, patients should see a qualified physician for a diagnosis.
Diagnosing tennis elbow
Similar to other conditions and injuries, the first step in diagnosing tennis is for the doctor to perform an evaluation. In most cases, the doctor should review medical history, ask questions about your specific symptoms and perform a physical examination to test for range of motion and painful spots.
Next, physicians will often order tests to confirm the presence of lateral epicondylitis. Diagnostic imagery such as an X-ray or MRI can show telltale signs of tennis elbow, or rule out other conditions such as arthritis.
If a doctor diagnoses tennis elbow to be the source of symptoms, the next step is to work together to create a treatment plan to manage symptoms and help promote recovery.
Conservative treatments that help tennis elbow
For a tennis elbow diagnosis, the initial treatment recommendation will usually consist of conservative, or nonsurgical, therapies. Since tennis elbow is an injury that can improve, the goal of treatment is to both manage symptoms and take steps to promote the healing process.
Specific treatment plans vary depending on the severity of the injury and the patient’s lifestyle and profession, but will often consist of:
- Resting the elbow and modifying activities to prevent overuse and strain
- Taking over-the-counter medications, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to reduce pain and reduce inflammation
- Physical therapy to mobilize soft tissue, learn proper elbow mechanics and address muscle imbalances
- Corticosteroid injections to help lower inflammation for an intermediate period of time
It can take some patience to find an effective treatment strategy, but it’s important not to rush back into activities that can exacerbate the injury.
When is tennis elbow surgery necessary?
For an injury such as tennis elbow, surgery is a last resort option for cases where weeks and months of conservative treatment has been attempted but symptoms still remain debilitating. The goal of tennis elbow procedures is to remove any heavily damaged soft tissue and muscle and then carefully reattach the tendon to the elbow. This can be accomplished using minimally invasive techniques on an outpatient basis thanks to advances in surgical technology.
After the procedure, patients will be given detailed instructions on recovery and will generally undergo some form of physical therapy and rehabilitation to help regain function and strength in the affected arm.
Get the information you need about tennis elbow treatment
At USA Spine Care, our highly skilled and compassionate staff has extensive experience in helping people diagnosed with tennis elbow get back to a healthy and active lifestyle. We have a full array of nonsurgical and surgical options at our state-of-the-art facilities. To learn more about becoming a candidate, contact us today
Call toll free 1- 866-249-1627