Tennis elbow is a common term we hear now and then, and it is commonly associated with sport injury. Tennis elbow, also referred as lateral epicondylitis, is a condition caused by overuse of elbow. The people affected with tennis elbow are those who have overused their elbow through any kind of sport activities or shoulder exercise.
Tennis elbow is caused by the inflammation of tendons that connects forearm muscles on the outside portion of elbow. When a person overly exerts forearm muscles, the muscles and tendons get damaged and causes pain.
Anatomy of elbow:
There are three bones that make up the elbow: the upper arm bone called humerus and two bones in the forearm called radius and ulna. Beneath the humerus there are bony bumps called epicondyles and the bony bump on lateral side of elbow is referred to as lateral epicondyle. The elbow is held together by muscles, ligaments and tendons.
The symptoms of tennis elbow progresses over a period of time, initially the affected person will experience mild pain and over the period of time, the pain frequency increases. The occurrence of tennis elbow is not related to the presence of any injury in a particular area.
If you are concerned that you might have tennis elbow, look for these signs:
- You will experience a feeling of constant pain or burning sensation on the outer surface of elbow
- Lack of firm grip strength
To be certain that you have tennis elbow, you will experience difficulty with activities associated with applying strain on forearm, like difficulty shaking hands, holding a racket and so on.
Diagnosis of tennis elbow:
Your doctor will enquire about the development and progression of symptoms, to detect whether you might have tennis elbow. Then the doctor will ask you to straighten your wrist and fingers by providing certain amount of resistance to your arm, and if there is a pain, it is an indication that you might have tennis elbow. The doctor might enquire about medical history like a nerve disease or rheumatoid arthritis that could be also an indication of tennis elbow and it is important to keep your doctor informed of these conditions.
Medical tests to diagnose tennis elbow:
- Electromyography (EMG)
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
Following are some of the non-surgical treatment methods used for the treatment of tennis elbow:
- Steroid injections: Steroids like cortisone is a highly effective anti-inflammatory medicine.
- Brace: The wearing of brace on back of forearm can relieve symptoms of tennis elbow by resting muscles and tendons.
- Physical therapy: Certain physical therapies such as ice massage, muscle stimulation techniques or ultrasound are known to improve healing.
The non-surgical treatment methods may provide around 80-95% of success rate in relieving the tennis elbow pain.
If symptoms do not disappear even after 6–12 months of non-surgical treatment, then the patient has to undergo the one of the following surgical treatments:
- Arthroscopic surgery: Through a small incision, the miniature instruments are used to fix the tennis elbow condition.
- Open surgery: It is the most common approach to repair tennis elbow; however, the patient needs to take few weeks of complete rest post surgery.
Prevention of tennis elbow:
- Avoid applying excessive strain/pressure on your wrist and elbow compared to the rest of your arm. Always aim to apply equal amount of strain/pressure on wrist, elbow and larger muscles of upper arm and shoulders.
- If you are suffering from tennis elbow, make sure you do not exert your elbow by applying stress on tendons. Refrain from activity that causes strain on affected area.
- Before you play a sport that involves repetitive arm movements, perform warm-up exercise which involves gentle arm stretches that could prevent injury.
- It is always recommended to use only light-weight equipments to improve grip and avoid excessive strain on tendons.
- Take the advice of physiotherapist to increase the strength of forearm muscles.
Texas Medical Concierge works closely with the Hospital for Special Surgery, a super-specialty healthcare institute that provides effective treatment for orthopedic-related problems and sports-related injuries.