You might not think playing tennis could lead to a severe injury, but the truth is that repetitive motion can strain your muscles and tendons and cause pain. Tennis elbow is a common condition that results from this type of overuse.
While the name suggests that only tennis players are at risk, anyone who participates in an activity that puts strain on the elbow can develop tennis elbow. This includes activities like painting, carpentry or even yard work.
A single incident does not cause tennis elbow; it can happen to anyone. This blog post will explore the symptoms, causes, and treatment options for tennis elbow.
Understanding Tennis Elbow
Tennis elbow is a condition caused by overuse of the muscles and tendons in the elbow. The condition is also called lateral epicondylitis — a type of tendonitis — which is the inflammation of the tendons. Some more recent research has shows it also is probably related to tendinosis — or microtearing of the tendon.
Lateral epicondylitis explicitly affects the tendons that attach the forearm muscles to the lateral epicondyle, which is the bony protrusion on the outside of the elbow. These muscles and tendons help you extend your wrist and fingers.
Tennis elbow causes pain and inflammation in the tendons and muscles around the elbow. The pain is often worse when you try to move your arm, grip or lift something. You might feel it when you extend your arm or straighten your wrist.
The pain might start mildly, but it can worsen over time. Tennis elbow is a chronic condition that can last for months or even years.
As the name implies, tennis players are at risk for developing tennis elbow. However, anyone participating in an activity that strains the elbow can develop the condition. While tennis elbow can occur in anyone, it’s most common in adults between 40 and 60 years old.
Tennis elbow is similar to the golfer’s elbow or medial epicondylitis. Both conditions are caused by overuse and result in pain and inflammation. The difference is that the tennis elbow affects the outside of the elbow while the golfer’s elbow affects the inside.
Signs & Symptoms of Tennis Elbow
The most common symptom of tennis elbow is pain in the outer elbow area. The pain might start as a dull ache and gradually worsens. The pain eventually turns into a sharp, burning sensation. It might also radiate down your arm and into your wrist and hand.
Other tennis elbow symptoms include:
- Limited elbow movement: Tennis elbow can make it difficult to fully extend or bend your arm.
- Weak grip: The pain and inflammation associated with tennis elbow can make it difficult to grip objects. As the condition progresses, you might feel weakness in your arm.
- Painful grip: You might feel pain when you try to grip something or shake hands.
- Elbow stiffness: You might feel stiffness around your elbow, especially in the morning.
- Wrist pain: Pain with wrist extension is a classic symptom.
- Inflammation: You might notice swelling, redness, or warmth around the affected tendon and elbow.
Seek care from a physician if you are experiencing any of these symptoms. Early diagnosis and treatment can help prevent the condition from worsening.
How Does Tennis Elbow Occur?
Tennis elbow is a type of overuse injury. It’s painful when forearm muscles and tendons are used repetitively, putting strain on the elbow. This can happen when you participate in any activity that puts stress on the elbow — not just tennis.
The most common causes of tennis elbow are repetitive wrist and arm motions. Repeated muscle contractions can lead to the development of small tears in the tendons, and these tendon tears cause pain and inflammation.
Several other factors can contribute to the development of tennis elbow, including:
- Elbow trauma: A direct blow to the elbow can lead to injured tissues and muscles.
- Age: Aside from repetitive motion, age can also cause tendon degeneration. This is because the tendons and muscles around the elbow joint weaken with age.
- Bone spurs: A bone spur is a bony outgrowth that can develop on the elbow joint. Bone spurs can rub against tendons and muscles, causing significant pain.
- Arthritis: The inflammation associated with arthritis can lead to a damaged tendon and muscle around the elbow.
- Poor form and technique: If you use poor form and technique in any activity, you are more likely to develop tennis elbow. For example, tennis players who use an improper backhand stroke are more likely to develop the condition.
If you have any of these risk factors, you might be more likely to develop tennis elbow. However, anyone can develop the condition regardless of age, gender, or activity level. Once you notice tennis elbow symptoms, seek treatment, so that proper care can be provided.
Does It Involve Playing Tennis?
Tennis elbow gets its name because it is a common injury among tennis players. However, you don’t need to play tennis to develop the condition. As mentioned earlier, any activity that puts stress on the elbow can lead to tennis elbow.
Everyday activities that can lead to tennis elbow include:
- Sports, such as tennis and golf
- Lifting heavy objects
- Playing musical instruments
- Heavy Labor
If you regularly participate in any of these activities, you might be more likely to develop the condition. It’s essential to be aware of the risk of developing tennis elbow. Use proper form and technique to help prevent the condition. If you experience any symptoms, stop the activity and see treatment.
Support for Your Tennis Elbow: Relieving Tennis Elbow Pain
Tennis elbow can make it challenging to participate in activities you enjoy, and it can worsen over time. However, there are ways to treat tennis elbow to help relieve pain and improve function.
Some tennis elbow conservative treatments include:
- Rest: Avoid any activity that puts stress on the elbow. This gives the injured tendons and muscles time to heal.
- Ice: Apply ice to the affected area several times a day. This helps reduce swelling and pain.
- Passive rehabilitation exercises: Stretching exercises, such as arm, shoulder and wrist stretches, can help improve wrist-to-shoulder rotations, flexion, and extension.
- Anti-inflammatory medications: Over-the-counter medications, such as ibuprofen, can be used to treat pain and inflammation. Steroid injections can also be used if the pain gets severe as a last resort.
- Bracing: Wearing an elbow brace or wrist brace can decrease stress and pressure on the injured tissues and tendons.
- Physical therapy: A physical therapist can develop a program to limit activities that worsen symptoms and help improve range of motion and function.
- Occupational therapy: An occupational therapist can help you find ways to perform your daily activities without putting stress on the elbow.
Surgery might be necessary if these conservative treatments don’t relieve your pain. Surgery is usually only recommended if other treatments haven’t worked after several months or over a year. It’s usually a last resort.
Consider Tennis Elbow Surgery for Tennis Elbow
When conservative treatment options fail, and symptoms persist, surgical intervention might be recommended to treat tennis elbow. The type of surgical procedure will depend on the severity of your condition and how long you’ve been experiencing symptoms.
Diagnosis of Tennis Elbow
Your doctor will ask about your complete medical history, symptoms, and activities that might have led to the condition. They will also conduct a physical examination of your elbow, arm, and shoulder. Imaging tests — such as x-rays or MRIs — might also be ordered to rule out other conditions.
Once a diagnosis is made, your doctor will develop a treatment plan to help relieve your symptoms and improve function.
Lateral Epicondyle Release Surgery
Lateral epicondylitis, or lateral epicondyle release surgery, is a surgical procedure to release the common extensor tendon origin. This is the part of the elbow where the tendons attach to the bone. A surgeon can do this tennis elbow surgery traditionally or endoscopically.
- Open surgery: This traditional surgery involves an incision over the lateral epicondyle. The orthopedic surgeon will remove any damaged tissue from the extensor tendon.
- Arthroscopic surgery: This endoscopic surgery involves making small incisions around the elbow. The orthopedic surgeon will insert a tiny camera — called an arthroscope — into the elbow joint. This allows them to see and remove the damaged tissue without making a large incision.
Tennis Elbow Surgery Success Rate
Many people who have tennis elbow surgery experience a significant reduction in pain, and the procedure can also help improve the range of motion and function. The success rate for this type of surgery is generally high, but it might take some time to see the full results.
Recovery from tennis elbow surgery can take several months. Physical therapy is often necessary to help improve the range of motion and function. You must follow professional medical advice to ensure the surgery site is healing properly.
Contact Academy Orthopedics
Tennis elbow is a common condition that can cause debilitating pain and loss of function. If you think you might have tennis elbow, don’t hesitate to contact Academy Orthopedics. Our experienced orthopedics can help you get an accurate diagnosis and develop a treatment plan to relieve your symptoms and improve function.
Contact us today to schedule an appointment.