You may have learned that pain in your elbow is something called tennis elbow. This condition can affect anyone who uses their elbow repeatedly, not just those who play tennis. Here, our Stittsville physical therapy team explains what this injury is and how we can help to treat it.
Even if you have never touched a tennis racket before, you have probably heard of the term tennis elbow. This injury is characteristic of the sport it is named after - one that asks a lot of your elbow joint as you swing a racket.
Depending on what kinds of physical activity you participate in as part of your work or hobbies, you may even develop this condition yourself. Some very common and innocuous actions such as turning a screwdriver over longer periods of time may even contribute to the development of this injury.
What is tennis elbow?
Tennis elbow - also called lateral epicondylitis - is the swelling of the tendons in your elbow in response to strain. This condition can cause a number of different uncomfortable symptoms, including:
- pain on the outer side of your elbow
- a very tender point about an inch or so past the bony part of your outer elbow
- general discomfort with the act of gripping an object, bending your elbow, or pressing upwards against an object with your palm
This issue may be persistent over long periods of time, going away and then flaring back up depending on your levels of activity when you rest and re-engage your body. The key to avoiding tennis elbow becoming a lifelong problem is to identify it early and take steps in address not only the pain, but the root cause of it.
What this should look like will depend on the stage of your healing you are in and the factors that are contributing to you developing this painful condition.
What factors contribute to tennis elbow?
Every case of tennis elbow will develop and present slightly differently, and these differences will be critical to your ability to plan your treatment and recovery.
Some of the most common factors that may contribute to the development of tennis elbow include:
- Repetitive Motion - Tendons and other connective tissues will generally either break or sustain damage when they either are placed under a great deal of force or impact, or when they undergo the same small force or impact repeatedly over long periods of time, weakening them. The latter is more common, and because of this, people who play sports, work or participate in hobbies that require repetitive small strains on their elbows will be more likely to develop tennis elbow.
- Muscle Tightness - The tendons affected by tennis elbow are directly attached to the muscles on either side of your elbow, tightness in the surrounding muscles and joints, such as the shoulder, forearms or wrists, may all place greater string on your elbows and contribute to you straining your tendons to the point where they become injured and cause pain.
How to treat tennis elbow?
If you are able to catch tennis elbow in its earliest stages when it just beginning to cause discomfort, you may be able to manage it with rest, ice and anti-inflammatory medication. However, this will only address the symptoms of the pain you feel rather than the injury that is causing that pain.
If you are looking to treat the cause of your tennis elbow rather than just manage your pain, a physiotherapist will be the health professional to see. Physiotherapists are able to work with you to identify what movements, habits and activities are contributing to your pain, and how you can participate in them safely.
How can physiotherapy treat tennis elbow?
The ultimate goal of physiotherapy for tennis elbow is to alleviate pain in your elbow in addition to supporting its strength and flexibility both in the joint and in the surrounding muscle groups so that the strained tendons will have as much physical support as possible when they become engaged.
At first, this will likely include passive physiotherapy treatments such as hot and cold therapies, manual therapy as well as tape, straps or braces for your elbow to physically support your joint.
After an initial assessment and treatment of your tennis elbow, our physiotherapists will move on to prescribe active physiotherapist treatments or prescribed exercises that are intended to support the recovery of your elbow and encourage things like blood flow, oxygenation of the connective tissues and, eventually, enough strength that your tennis elbow is unlikely to flare up again - so long as you keep up your exercise regime to maintain its strength.
Some examples of exercises that your Nepean physiotherapists may recommend for patients with tennis elbow may include:
- Ball squeezes
- Wrist flexor stretches
- Forearm strengthening
- Finger stretches
- And much more
Before undertaking any exercises while experiencing tennis elbow, you should always consult a physiotherapist.
When suffering from a condition or injury, exercising the part of your body experiencing pain may just as easily make the injury worse as it could help to alleviate your pain and strengthen your body.