Many people diagnosed with “tennis elbow” are surprised to learn about their condition because they may not play tennis at all. In fact, most cases occur in non-tennis players! (Mayo Clinic, 2015).
Technically, it is known as lateral epicondylitis and it is when tendons that anchor the muscle to the bone in one area of the outer elbow degenerate. This degeneration creates a weakness at the point where the muscles join, and this causes pain whenever the muscles are put to use. So, you might experience pain in your wrist when you are gripping something or lifting it, and this would be due to tennis elbow.
Causes of Lateral Epicondylitis
Tennis players aren’t the only ones who can experience the discomfort of tennis elbow; it can be caused by many things. Generally, any activity that continually puts stress on the point where the tendon attaches the muscle to the outer elbow can lead to problems. Ongoing stress from grasping and swinging a tennis racket can be to blame, but so can almost any repetitive movement with a similar nature. For example, house painters, plumbers, and even butchers and weavers have often experienced tennis elbow.
It is entirely possible to have tennis elbow from a single incident of trauma to the muscle-tendon unit. For example, a hard hit to the outer elbow can cause inflammation that leads to weakening of this area, or a single instance of force or extreme stress can injure the tendons.
People of almost any age can experience it, but it is most common in those between the ages of 30 to 50.
Tennis Elbow Treatment and Signs
How can you tell if the pain you are feeling is tennis elbow? It is rare for someone with tennis elbow to feel pain with any movement of the elbow. Instead, your discomfort may range from a noticeable tenderness in the area around the elbow to a pain that occurs whenever you grip or lift. Pain tends to radiate outward from the elbow, up the arm and may even be experienced in the hand.
Any pain of this kind should be dealt with immediately, and a hand surgeon or expert should be your preferred medical provider for tennis elbow treatment. They will assess the situation and consider whether to use non-surgical treatment or to use a less conservative, surgical treatment immediately. Generally, surgery is the course chosen if the issue has left the patient incapacitated or in pain for more than six months.
Before surgical remedies are used, the patient will usually be treated with a range of options. The mildest is simply modification of activity or grip to relieve the problem and allow the tendon to strengthen. Anti-inflammatory medications, including steroid injections may be used. Braces are also considered a good approach as they support the muscle and allow healing of the tendon. Physical therapy can be useful as this will allow the area to be strengthened, and can include other modalities such as heat and ultrasound.
A last resort before surgery is shockwave treatment, though this is not always available. Surgery is used to remove the damaged tendon and trigger healing and strengthening. This would be followed up by further physical therapy to ensure full range of motion and strengthening.
The good news is that there are many ways to deal with tennis elbow, and the first step is getting in touch with your qualified hand specialist or surgeon.