If you’re an avid tennis player or a player of another racket sport, you may have heard the term tennis elbow. But what is tennis elbow exactly? Tennis elbow is a repetitive strain injury to the tendons in the elbow. It is a type of tendonitis that can be acute or chronic. It affects the extensor muscles of the forearm. Tennis elbow or lateral epicondylitis affects people who do a lot of striking motions with their forearm like playing tennis, using hammers, etc. Even activities that require excessive gripping motions can cause tennis elbow, like painting and hedge clipping. When playing tennis the following maneuvers can cause tennis elbow—one-handed backhand with poor technique, twisting the wrist while serving at full power, and a late forehand swing that causes the wrist to bend. Treatment of tennis elbow focuses on reducing the pain and inflammation. To protect the elbow while letting it heal, a tennis elbow brace is recommended. A tennis elbow brace will restrict movement of the elbow while also being supportive and protective.
Signs And Symptoms
The most common sign of tennis elbow is a pain over the lateral (outer) aspect of the elbow. The outer portion of the elbow can also become tender. Specifically, the pain and tenderness will be 1-2cm around the outer bony prominence. There can be a weakness of the muscles in the forearm, especially the extensor muscles. The extensor muscles help to extend the finger and the wrist upwards. The pain will be increased, with gripping motions of the wrist and with activities that require the use of the extensor muscles like— pouring from a jug, sweeping, lifting with the palm down, etc. An acute case of tennis elbow occurs immediately after the activity. The muscles get overloaded in a short period of time causing tears in the tendons. A chronic condition is developed over days or weeks, when a person is doing an exercise or performing an activity they are not accustomed to, like lifting heavy weights.
Diagnosis and Treatment
A doctor or physical therapist can diagnose a case of tennis elbow by taking a thorough medical history, and by examining your arm. In some cases, you may need to do an imaging test such as an X-Ray or MRI. The primary concern is to differentiate tennis elbow from other similar conditions like a compression of the radial nerve or a neck injury. They have similar symptoms but different treatments.
Treatment for tennis elbow are as follows:
- For the first 3 days, follow the rules of P.R.I.C.E, i.e, Protect your elbow, give it Rest, apply Ice to the area, Compress the elbow and keep the arm Elevated.
- Rest is the most important part of the treatment. If you continue to use your injured elbow, it can worsen the tears and cause even more serious harm. You could risk developing a chronic condition that will be hard to treat. It is best to avoid lifting or moving heaving objects, gripping anything for too long or too hard, using anything that requires a screwing or striking motion, and of course, playing tennis.
- A sports massage done by a qualified specialist might be beneficial to some people, especially those with chronic conditions. Massage can only be done, if there is no inflammation so for acute cases, or you may need to wait for 4-5 days for the inflammation to subside. In particular, cross friction massage of the tendon insertion is useful in improving the condition of the elbow.
- Some doctors may prescribe a mild painkiller and anti-inflammatory medication like Paracetamol or Ibuprofen. Additional therapies include ultrasound, laser, acupuncture, corticosteroid injections, etc.
To protect your elbow, the best item you can get is a tennis elbow brace. A tennis elbow brace helps in the rehabilitation process of tennis elbow. It protects your elbow while it heals and gives support. Tennis elbow braces are the following types:
This is a thin clasp or clip that fits around the arm with the help of a strap. It applies pressure to the muscles, a few centimeters below the area of pain in the elbow. It is the most expensive type of tennis elbow brace and needs to be fit perfectly. They absorb some of the load and force on the muscles. Since these are very expensive and very precise, it’s generally used by professional tennis players and other professional athletes.
Tennis Elbow Strap
This is a simple strap that wraps around the arm just below the elbow. They compress the upper forearm and absorb some of the force, that transmits along the arm. This type of tennis elbow brace is inexpensive and easy to fit. The level of compression can be adjusted.
Tennis Elbow Sleeve
A sleeve type of tennis elbow brace covers the entire elbow and part of the upper forearm. It provides warmth and support, apart from compression. The best way to treat tennis elbow is to give yourself enough time and rest to let the tendons heal. A tennis elbow brace is a must for decreasing your risk of getting injured again. If you give your arm proper rest and protection, you’ll be out there playing in no time.