It’s that time of year when Wimbledon is on our TV’s and the country gets enthralled in tennis for a couple of weeks. It got me thinking about one of the common injuries we treat at The Physiotherapy Place - tennis elbow.
Tennis elbow is so called because it can be caused by poor technique in a tennis shot. However, this is only one of the many ways that tennis elbow can happen. Any activity that creates excessive load to the muscles on the top of the forearm - the wrist extensor muscle group - can cause the repetitive strain known as tennis elbow.
How does it happen?
To give it its proper name, lateral epicondylitis, gives us more information about where the problem occurs. The lateral epicondyle is a small bony prominence on the outside of the elbow and is the point where the wrist extensor muscles attach. These muscles run along the top of the forearm and are involved in movements such as bending the wrist back, making a fist, and twisting the forearm. Lateral epicondylitis occurs if these muscles are used repetitively to the point that they become fatigued and start to breakdown, resulting in pain and damage to the tendon where it attaches onto the bone.
Signs and Symptoms
If you have tennis elbow, you will likely report an increase in pain when gripping tightly or shaking hands, using a screwdriver or twisting a jar, or any activity that requires wrist and hand use. The outside of the elbow can be very sensitive to touch, and you may find it will get very stiff, especially first thing in the morning.
What can I do about it?
To effectively get rid of tennis elbow, the approach must be two-fold. Specific focal treatment to the tendon will allow the inflammation to settle and ensure optimal healing. Treatments such as deep friction massage and ultrasound can achieve this.
As well as treating the tendon directly, it is also important to discover the reason why it became injured in the first place in order to correct that. Some common factors in causing tennis elbow are an increase in activity using your hands, using equipment that isn’t suitably fitted, or due to specific weakness or tightness in the arm.
Once the tendon is healing and the causative factors have been addressed, a stretching and strengthening program should be implemented to ensure the muscles and tendons are able to cope comfortably with the load placed on them in the future.