What is Tennis Elbow?
By Laurence Schubert APAM
Tennis elbow, also known as lateral epicondylitis is characterized by pain on the outer aspect of the elbow. The pain is associated with movements of the hand/wrist and includes irritation of the forearm muscles. There are many muscles in the forearm that control the movement of the wrist. With tennis elbow, the extensor carpi radialis brevis (ECRB) is commonly affected. The condition is referred to as tennis elbow because the injury is common for tennis players or those who participate in racquet sports. However, this injury can occur to anyone especially those who perform repetitive movements with their hand/wrist. E.g. office workers or manual labourers such as painters, plumbers or carpenters.
What are the signs and symptoms?
Classic signs of tennis elbow include pain on the outside of the elbow and soreness in the muscles of the forearm. This pain is exacerbated with movements of the wrist or when gripping objects. If the condition is at its infancy the pain will cease as soon as the activity stops. However, as the condition worsens the discomfort may be more constant and last much longer. As with most injuries, the longer it is present, the longer the recovery will take. It is common to experience night pain, stiffness in the elbow, weakness, numbness and tingling. If the condition is highly irritated simple everyday movements will become painful.
What causes it?
Generally, the condition will be caused by repetitive movements of the wrist. Most of the time these movements are done with poor ergonomics and much greater than usual activity levels. The cause of the pain is from an increased loading through the forearm tendons, causing inflammation and increased sensitivity to the area. Other factors that contribute to the development of tennis elbow include poor nutrition, decreased usage, inflammatory diseases and aging.
How can Physiotherapy help?
It is important to appropriately diagnose tennis elbow, because some neck conditions can present similarly. Once diagnosed, your physiotherapist will identify your most important contributing factors. Your physiotherapist will likely reduce some of the inflammation and discomfort through manual therapy such as massage, dry needling or trigger point release. A individualised exercise program will likely be prescribed in order to address any strength/muscle deficiencies.
Ergonomic management will be an important process to ensure appropriate recovery. This may include changing grip technique or altering workplace set up. Managing the load going through your arm will be important in reducing pain and getting your tendon strong again. Due to the type of injury, tennis elbow can take weeks or even months to fully recover. However, conservative management via a physiotherapist has proven to be very effective for managing tennis elbow. The earlier treatment is sought, the better outcomes for recovery.