Tennis elbow is a painful tenderness of the joint in the elbow triggered by constant use or overuse. The discomfort is usually felt on the external area of the upper arm right above the elbow once it is straightened or when the arm is fully extended.
Causes of tennis elbow
Tennis elbow is caused by any activity that involves repetitive movement or twisting of the wrist. This commonly occurs among individuals who engage in sports such as tennis, golf, swimming or even work that involves the use of certain tools such as a hammer or a computer.
The muscle in the forearm is attached to the exterior bone of the elbow. Based on studies, it was discovered that tennis elbow tends to occur once a specific muscle in the forearm (extensor carpi radialis brevis muscle) is injured. This muscle is responsible for stabilizing the wrist if the elbow is straightened. Due to repetitive stress, it weakens the muscle resulting to miniscule tears in the tendon of the muscle at the area where it connects to the exterior of the elbow. The tears produce pain and trigger inflammation.
Symptoms of tennis elbow
If you suspect that an individual is suffering from tennis elbow, he/she will experience one or more of these symptoms:
- Pain in the elbow that is initially mild and steadily worsens
- Pain that extends from the outside of the elbow up to the forearm and wrist
- Grasp that is weak
- Pain that worsens when squeezing an object or shaking the hands
- Pain when lifting, opening or using objects
Diagnosing tennis elbow
Your doctor will diagnose the condition during a physical examination. Questions will be asked regarding your work, if engaged in any sports and how the symptoms developed. Tests will also be performed to help come up with a diagnosis. Your doctor can apply gentle pressure on the spot where the tendon connects to the bone to determine if pain manifests. Additionally, your doctor will flex your arm and wrist to check if there is pain.
Other imaging tests are also requested such as MRI or X-ray to rule out other disorders that can cause arm pain such as arthritis of the elbow or herniated disk.
Treatment for tennis elbow
Tennis elbow can be treated by basic first aid at home without requiring any surgical interventions.
- Rest is important for the recovery process. The affected arm must be rested for several weeks. In some cases, a brace will be provided by your doctor to immobilize the affected muscles.
- Application of ice packs over the elbow will minimize the pain and inflammation.
- Administer over-the-counter medications for pain such as ibuprofen or aspirin.
Other treatment options that will be recommended by your doctor include:
- Physical therapy which involves several techniques to help strengthen the muscles in your forearm while at the same time promotes faster healing. It can also include ice massage, exercises and muscle-stimulating techniques.
- Shock wave therapy involves the use of sound waves to the affected elbow to promote the healing process.
- Injection of steroids directly on the affected muscle to minimize the inflammation.