What is Tennis Elbow

It is believed to be caused due to tearing of the tendons that attach forearm muscles to arm bone at the elbow joint or in medical terms the extensor carpi radialis brevis got to be blamed for causing the symptoms, they are the same muscles that attaches to the part of lateral epicondyle(elbow bone) thus giving it the name ‘lateral epicondylitis’. It occurs due to overuse caused by repetitive strain of the elbow joint against resistance. As it is more commonly seen in tennis players it has come to be called as ‘tennis elbow’.

Causes: Over-exertion or repetitive hand movements are the prime causes. It occurs not only in tennis or other sportspersons but also in people indulging in repetitive daily activities like in case of plumbing, painting, carpentry, and all jobs involving excessive strenuous hand movements. It does not occur all of a sudden but develops gradually over a period of time.

Symptoms:

  • Pain on the outside of the elbow
  • Pain while lifting objects
  • Difficulty in doing simple tasks such as opening the door, lifting a coffee mug    
  • Pain while applying slight pressure like pressing on the outside of the elbow
  • Radiating pain from the outside of the elbow to the forearm and back of the hand when trying to grasp something.

Diagnosis: Generally tennis elbow is diagnosed by physical examination by the doctor and also depends largely on the description of pain given to the doctor. X-rays are of no help in diagnosing this condition.

Treatment: It varies from person to person. The doctor can recommend one or a combination of these methods.

  1. Applying ice on the outside of the elbow 3-4 times a day
  2. Use of NSAID’s like ibuprofen that help reduce inflammation and pain
  1. Administering steroid injections like cortisone which will help decrease pain
  2. Ultrasound and laser therapy helps reduce pain as well as stimulate healing
  3. Massage therapies, acupuncture and neural stretching exercises are also helpful when performed under the expert guidance of a specialist
  4. Changes in the techniques(especially backhand), racquet size, practice hours should be made in case of sportspersons
  5. Surgery is advised only if the above methods have caused no significant improvement and there is still persistent pain after an year of treatment and rest.

Prevention: Following are few simple tips that can help prevent the symptoms:

  1. It is necessary that a person adequately rest the arm and elbow when over-exerted.
  2. Apply an ice pack on the outside of the elbow
  3. Avoid repetitive movements as much as possible
  4. Maintain good strength and flexibility of the arm muscles
  5. Wear a brace or support to protect the tendon, especially when returning to playing or doing repetitive chores
  6. Take over-the-counter NSAID’s like ibuprofen when experiencing pain
  7. Immediately consult a doctor if the pain, tenderness continues.
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