Most People who get Tennis Elbow Don't Play Tennis!
Less than 5% of all cases of tennis elbow occur in people who play tennis. Tennis elbow can happen to anyone who repeatedly uses their elbow, wrist and hand for their job, sport or hobby.
What Is Tennis Elbow (Lateral Epicondylitis)?
Tennis elbow is a painful condition caused by overuse of the “extensor” muscles in your forearm. To put it more simply, the muscles you use to grip, twist and carry objects with your hand all attach to the elbow. That's why a movement of the wrist or hand can actually cause pain in the elbow if these muscles are overused. It can happen to athletes, non-athletes, children and adults. It occurs more often in men than women, and most commonly affects people between the ages of 30 and 50.
Signs and Symptoms
Most often, symptoms of tennis elbow develop gradually over a period of weeks or months as a result of repeated use of the wrist, hand and elbow. This can happen when using a computer, operating machinery and, of course, playing tennis with an improper grip or technique.
However, symptoms of tennis elbow can occur suddenly as a result of excessive use of the wrist and hand. Forceful activities—like pulling strongly on a lawn mower starter cord—can injure the extensor muscle fibers and lead to a sudden onset of tennis elbow.
Your symptoms may include:
- Pain, stiffness or weakness that radiates into your forearm, wrist or elbow
- Difficulty with lifting or gripping activities such as turning a doorknob, opening a jar or using silverware.
For all cases of tennis elbow, it's important to treat as early as possible. Left untreated, tennis elbow may become chronic and last for months and sometimes even years. This is especially true if treatment is focused only on relieving pain and not on correcting the muscle weakness and bad habits that might have led to your condition in the first place.
A Therapist Can Help you by:
1. Treating your injury early
If your tennis elbow has started in the last 24 to 48 Hours, your treatment will include:
- Resting the arm by avoiding certain activities and modifying the way you do others
- Using 10 to 20-minute ice treatments
- Using elastic bandages or supports to take the pressure off of the painful muscles
2. Retraining your Muscles
Our therapists will help you remain active by teaching you how to modify your daily activities to avoid pain and further injury. We’ll help you make simple modifications to your work site, your computer set-up, your kitchen devices, your sports equipment and even your gardening tools to lessen the strain to your hand, wrist and forearm. Stretch breaks are also important to prevent re-injury.
3. Improving Your Movement and Strength
Our therapists can design a specific treatment program to reduce your pain, improve your ability to move and speed your recovery. This may include manual therapy, ice and heat treatments and exercises for you to do at home.
Home exercises will help address weakness in your muscles contributing to your condition. Sometimes the weakness is in the muscles of the wrist and forearm. In many cases, the problem stems from weakness of the supporting postural, or "core," muscles. Our therapists can determine the type and amount of exercises that are right for you.
Can this Injury or Condition be Prevented?
Yes! You can help prevent tennis elbow by staying fit, using proper technique in your sport or job and using equipment that is well designed and appropriate for your body type and level of activity. Our therapists can show you how. If you had tennis elbow years ago, you might be at risk for re-injury if the tendons did not have time to completely heal or if your muscle strength and joint mobility were not fully restored. Returning to sports or activities before you have fully recovered might result in an elbow that has persistent pain or is easily re-injured. We can help determine when you are ready to return to your activities and sports. We’ll help make sure that your elbow, forearm, and wrist are strong and ready for action.
If you need help with tennis elbow, find your nearest location here.
Article and graphic courtesy of the APTA