Tennis elbow is also known as lateral epicondylitis, is a very painful medical condition. This occurs when tendons in the elbow are overburdened, majorly because of the recurring activity of the wrist and arm. A tennis elbow does not only happen to athletes but can also occur in normal individuals who stress their elbow. These include people engaged in professions such as plumbing, painters, carpenters, and butchers.
The tennis elbow occurs when the tendons of the forearm muscles link to a bony bump on the outer side of the elbow. If not treated, the tennis elbow pain can spread to the forearm and wrist. The condition is treatable if detected in time. In case, the condition causes symptoms of disability, surgery may be required.
Symptoms of tennis elbow
The pain of the tennis elbow can stretch to the forearm and wrist, which then tends to make the following motions difficult:
- Turn a key or a doorknob
- Hold something such as a coffee mug, glass, etc.
- Shake hand
- Grip an object
Causes of tennis elbow
Tennis elbow occurs when there is overuse or injury/strain of the muscle. This happens because the forearm muscle – used to straighten and raise the hand and wrist – is repeatedly contracted. The recurring motions and stress on the tissue may cause a chain of tears in the tendons. These tendons join the forearm muscles to the bony prominence outside the elbow.
Moreover, as suggested by the name, playing tennis can also cause this problem. Typically, because the backhand stroke is executed with poor technique. That said, some other motions of the arm that can cause a tennis elbow, include:
- Driving screws
- Butchering or cutting meat or other hard cooking ingredients
- Repeated use of the computer mouse
- Excessive typing
- Usage of plumbing tools
Risk factors of tennis elbow
Some aspects that make a person more prone to a tennis elbow include:
- Age: This condition is most commonly found in adults over the age of 30 but below 50 years. However, tennis elbow can occur in people of all ages.
- Occupation: People who are employed in professions that involve repetitive motions of the wrist and arm.
- Specific sports: Racket sports increases the risk of tennis elbow, more so in case, where a poor stroke technique is employed.
Diagnosis of tennis elbow
To diagnose a tennis elbow, the doctor applies pressure to the affected area to check for the intensity of pain. Moreover, the patient will be asked to move the elbow, wrist, and fingers in certain ways to check for the problem of tennis elbow.
Typically, a tennis elbow can be effectively diagnosed with the help of a physical exam and based on medical history. But in cases, where the doctor thinks that an underlying condition is causing the symptoms, an X-ray or other types of imaging testing can be suggested.
Treatment of tennis elbow
In general conditions, the tennis elbow heals on its own. However, over-the-counter pain medications and other self-care techniques can help. In cases, where these traditional methods do not work, physical therapy can be recommended by the doctor. Some severe cases of tennis elbow can be treated with the help of surgery.
Therapy: In case the cause of the problem is tennis, the doctor may suggest an evaluation of the tennis technique. If the problem is because of the profession, the doctor would suggest reducing the movements that stress the tennis elbow. In such situations, a physical therapist can help to reduce pain by suggesting exercises that help to stretch and strengthen the muscles of the forearm.
Injections: In severe cases that are not treatable via therapy, the doctor will suggest injecting platelet-rich plasma, botox, or any other type of irritant into the affected area, especially the tendon. Also, dry needling can be used to relieve pain. In this procedure, the doctor pierces the affected tendon in multiple places to treat the issue.
Ultrasonic tenotomy (TENEX procedure): This technique involves using ultrasound images to insert a specialized needle in the damaged part of the tendon. The ultrasonic emergency transmits quickly to the damaged tissue and liquefies it immediately, permitting the doctor to suction the affected tissue.
Surgery: For patients on whom non-operative methods of tennis elbow cure have not proved effective even after 6-12 weeks of treatment, surgery may be recommended. Surgery can either be done through a large or a small incision. No matter the invasiveness of the surgery, the treatment needs to be followed up with rehabilitation exercises.
On the other hand, several lifestyles and home remedies can also be advised to treat tennis elbow. These include:
- Taking rest and avoiding activities that can intensify elbow pain.
- Taking pain relievers.
- Applying ice or a cold pack on the affected area 3-4 times a day for 15 minutes.
- Generally, ensuring to avoid improper playing techniques or repetitive motions that stress the tendon.
Overall, a tennis elbow is not a very serious condition. However, if the pain is neglected for a long period and corrective treatment is not sought, the problem can intensify.