The elbow might be one of the most under-appreciated joints in the body. When it is working correctly, you may never pay attention to it. But once you start experiencing pain, even a minor injury can be incredibly frustrating.
Tennis elbow is a colloquial term used to describe a chronic pain that affects the elbow as a result of overuse. Tennis players are particularly known for developing this condition, as evident by the common name, but they are not alone in experiencing the sensation. Golfers, baseball players, yoga enthusiasts and construction workers are prone to developing the condition, as well as those who frequently participate in activities such as knitting, cooking, cleaning or typing.
What Causes Tennis Elbow?
Tennis elbow, also known as lateral epicondylitis (acute) or lateral elbow tendinopathy (any time frame) can develop as the result of overuse of the arm, forearm or hand muscles. Frequently the pain of tennis elbow will develop gradually, starting off rather minor but increasing as overuse continues. In some situations, tennis elbow begins as a lingering pain that is left behind after an injury to the tendon surrounding the outside of the elbow.
Symptoms of Tennis Elbow:
• Pain that slowly increases around the outside of the elbow
• Pain that is worsened by using grip
• Pain that is made worse by putting pressure on the wrist, such as during stabilizing motions or any other forceful movement.
Lateral Epicondylitis is when inflammation is present in the tendons attached to the lateral epicondyle (the outside bony part of the elbow). It represents the acute phase of the injury, meaning it has been present for less than 2 weeks. If the condition goes untreated, degenerative changes in the tendon result, creating a tendinosis (non-inflammatory changes). The term tendinopathy is used to indicate that pathology (inflammatory or non-inflammatory) is present in the tendon. Chronic elbow pain is when the symptoms have been present for longer than one month. Inflammation is no longer present, but instead, the pain is caused by degenerative changes in the tendons.
Treatment for Tennis Elbow:
If you are experiencing pain in your elbow, then you may have tennis elbow. The best thing to do is consult with a physical therapist, as they can help you develop a treatment plan and ensure that there is not another issue that is causing your pain.
The best way to treat tennis elbow is to decrease repetitive strain on the tendons attached to the elbow while completing an appropriate progressive strengthening program designed by a physical therapist. It is important to adjust your activities and avoid actions that worsen your symptoms. Light activities, such as cooking or typing, are fine to continue, even if they cause mild pain.
There are some physical therapy techniques that can be used to reduce pain in the elbow. You should never try any physical therapy activity without guidance from a licensed therapist. In some cases, icing and over-the-counter pain relievers and ointments can help reduce pain, but they do not address the cause of the symptoms and are generally not as effective as guided physical therapy.