What is Tennis Elbow?
Tennis elbow, or “lateral epicondylitis,” is a condition where the outer part of the elbow becomes painful and tender, typically due to repetitive strain or minor trauma. Contrary to its name, you don’t have to be a tennis player to develop tennis elbow. However, the term originated because the injury can be a significant problem for some tennis players.
Understanding the condition, its symptoms, and the available treatments can go a long way in ensuring quick recovery. So, is there a cure for tennis elbow pain? Let’s delve deeper.
The human forearm contains several muscles that help move the hand and wrist. The tendons of these muscles converge in a common tendon called the common extensor tendon, which attaches to the lateral epicondyle, a bony bump on the outer elbow.
With repeated strain, like the motion of a tennis backhand without proper technique, micro-tears can occur in this tendon. These tears lead to inflammation and stress, eventually causing pain and tenderness in that region.
Common Causes of Tennis Elbow
- Repetitive Motions: Activities that involve repetitive wrist and arm motions are the primary causes. This includes playing tennis (especially with poor backhand technique), but also other activities like painting, typing, or plumbing.
- Sudden Impact: A sudden, forceful impact, like missing a tennis ball’s hit, can strain the muscles and result in micro-tears in the tendon.
- Age: While it can affect people of all ages, tennis elbow is more common in individuals between the ages of 30 to 50.
- Occupational Risks: Jobs that involve repetitive arm movements, such as carpenters, painters, and butchers, may have a higher risk of developing tennis elbow.
Symptoms of Tennis Elbow
Apart from pain and tenderness on the outer elbow, other symptoms include:
- Stiffness: The elbow might feel stiff, especially in the morning or after periods of inactivity.
- Weakness: A noticeable weakness might occur, particularly in the wrist.
- Radiating Pain: The pain might radiate from the outer elbow into the forearm and even the wrist.
- Pain Intensifying with Activity: Gripping items, lifting objects, or even just moving the wrist can cause an increase in pain.
How do you know if you have tennis elbow?
Tennis elbow is characterized by pain and tenderness in the outer part of the elbow. This pain can sometimes extend down the forearm. It’s often triggered by repetitive arm and wrist motions, which can cause small tears in the tendons attaching the forearm muscles to the lateral epicondyle, the bony bump on the outer part of the elbow.
The symptoms of tennis elbow can vary, but they typically involve:
- Pain or burning on the outer part of the elbow.
- Weakened grip strength.
- Stiffness in the elbow.
- Pain that worsens with gripping objects or twisting the wrist.
While anyone can develop tennis elbow, it’s most common among individuals aged 30 to 50. If you are engaged in activities that require repetitive motions of the wrist and arm – like playing tennis, painting, or using a computer – you might be at a higher risk.
What does tennis elbow pain feel like?
The pain associated with tennis elbow is typically a slow, burning pain on the outside of the elbow. It might start mildly and become more intense over weeks or even months. Without treatment, the pain can become chronic and impact daily activities like lifting objects, shaking hands, or even holding a cup of coffee.
Tennis elbow pain is distinct in its presentation and can be differentiated from other types of elbow pain. Describing the sensation in detail can help individuals recognize the symptoms early on, ensuring timely intervention. Here are the main types of pain you may be feeling:
>> Localized Pain with Gradual Onset – For most individuals with tennis elbow, the pain isn’t sudden or sharp. Instead, it’s a gradually intensifying discomfort that originates from the outer part of the elbow. Initially, the pain might only be noticeable during or after activities that stress the forearm muscles, like lifting heavy objects or gripping tools.
>> A Burn or Throb – The pain from tennis elbow can be described as a burning or throbbing sensation on the outer elbow. This burning sensation is due to the inflammation of the tendons that attach to the lateral epicondyle. As the condition worsens, this throbbing might become more constant, even in the absence of physical activity.
>> Tenderness to Touch – The outer elbow becomes extremely tender to the touch. This tenderness is often one of the hallmark symptoms. Simple actions like resting the elbow on a table or lightly pressing on the outer elbow can elicit discomfort.
>> Radiating Pain – In more severe cases or if the condition has been left untreated for an extended period, the pain can radiate or spread. This radiating pain travels down the forearm and, in some cases, even to the wrist. It can be especially noticeable when extending the wrist or when making a fist.
>> Aggravation with Movement – While the pain can be present at rest, certain movements can aggravate the discomfort significantly. Actions like gripping objects, turning a door handle, pouring a jug, or even shaking hands can exacerbate the pain.
>> Stiffness and Weakness – Beyond the direct sensation of pain, tennis elbow can also make the entire elbow joint feel stiff, especially after waking up in the morning. This stiffness might make it challenging to fully straighten or flex the arm. Accompanying this is a sense of weakness in the forearm, making everyday tasks that require grip strength more difficult.
How do you relieve tennis elbow pain?
There are several approaches to alleviate tennis elbow pain:
- Rest: Avoid activities that strain the affected tendons. This should be considered step #1. Your activities led to elbow pain, so you need to reduce or eliminate those activities as much as possible in the short term to help it heal.
- Rehab: It’s essential to adopt a comprehensive approach to treatment, which brings us to Malin Method. This holistic program offers various rehabilitation techniques, including a specific Tennis Elbow Rehab Program. This program aims at facilitating recovery while also focusing on preventive measures and has been shown to completely get rid of tennis elbow pain.
- Over-the-counter pain relievers: NSAIDs, like ibuprofen, can help manage pain and reduce inflammation, but they should be used with caution and only in the short term. They are NOT a good solution for the long term, because they do not address the underlying issues and can cause addiction.
- Braces or straps: Wearing them around the forearm can help relieve symptoms by taking pressure off the tendons. Again, this is a short term solution, since it may provide some tennis elbow relief, but it does not address the underlying issues.
What is the fastest way to cure tennis elbow?
The fastest recovery from tennis elbow involves a combination of treatments:
- Immediate Intervention: When you first notice the pain, rest the affected arm and give it time to heal. This can prevent the condition from worsening.
- Physical Therapy: This is essential to strengthen the muscles, ensuring that they provide better support to the tendons and reduce the strain. Again, we recommend doing our Tennis Elbow Rehab Program.
- Medical Treatment: In some cases, doctors might recommend injections or even surgery if the pain is severe and other treatments fail. We always recommend getting some imaging done to verify what is wrong. Before considering invasive procedures, it’s worth exploring comprehensive rehabilitation programs first as long as your doctor gives you the green light.
While tennis elbow can be painful and disruptive, understanding the condition and seeking the right treatments can lead to a swift recovery. Whether it’s through physical therapy, home remedies, or comprehensive rehabilitation programs like those offered by Malin Method, there’s hope for everyone suffering from this condition. Remember, early intervention and a holistic approach are keys to quick recovery and prevention.