WHAT IS TENNIS ELBOW (LATERAL EPICONDYLITIS)?
Tennis elbow is a common term for a condition caused by overuse of arm, forearm, and hand muscles that results in elbow pain. You don’t have to play tennis to get this, but the term came into use because it can be a significant problem for some tennis players. Tennis elbow affects 1% to 3% of the population overall and as many as 50% of tennis players during their careers. Less than 5% of all tennis elbow diagnoses are related to actually playing tennis.
Tennis elbow is caused by either abrupt or subtle injury of the muscle and tendon area around the outside of the elbow. Tennis elbow specifically involves the area where the muscles and tendons of the forearm attach to the outside bony area (called the lateral epicondyle) of the elbow. Your doctor may call this condition lateral epicondylitis. Another common term, “golfer’s elbow,” refers to the same process occurring on the inside of the elbow (what your doctor may call medial epicondylitis). Overuse injury can also affect the back or posterior part of the elbow as well.
Usually, the pain is on the outside of the elbow and might be accompanied by warmth and swelling. The elbow maintains its full range of motion, as the inner joint is not affected, and the pain is usually more noticeable toward the end of the day. Repeated twisting motions or activities that strain the tendon typically cause more pain.
Tennis elbow affects men more than women. It most often affects people between the ages of 30 and 50, although people of any age can be affected. Although tennis elbow commonly affects tennis players, it also affects other athletes and people who participate in leisure or work activities that require repetitive arm, elbow, wrist, and hand movement, especially while tightly gripping something. Examples include golfers, baseball players, bowlers, landscapers, carpenters, mechanics, and assembly-line workers.
WHAT ARE THE RISK FACTORS?
Lateral Epicondylitis is the most common reason that people see their doctors for elbow pain. While it is most common in people between the ages of 30 and 50, this injury can occur at any age. It also tends to affect men more than women.
This condition commonly affects tennis players as well as a wide variety of other athletes. However, hobbies and occupations that require gripping combined with repetitive arm, elbow, wrist, or hand movements can also contribute to nagging elbow pain.
Examples include golfers, baseball players, bowlers, landscapers, carpenters, mechanics, and assembly-line workers.
WHAT ARE THE CAUSES AND SYMPTOMS?
This condition specifically involves the lateral epicondyle, the part of the elbow where the muscles and tendons attach to the outside bony part of the elbow. Your doctor may call this condition lateral epicondylitis.
Recent studies show that lateral epicondylitis is often due to damage to a specific forearm muscle. The extensor carpi radialis brevis (ECRB) muscle helps stabilize the wrist when the elbow is straight. When the ECRB is weakened from overuse, microscopic tears form in the tendon where it attaches to the lateral epicondyle. This leads to inflammation and pain in the elbow joint.
According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, tennis elbow symptoms include weak grip strength and a painful burning on the outside of the elbow. The pain is more likely to be present when lifting, making a fist, gripping an object, opening a door, or raising your hand above your head.
Other symptoms include:
- The elbow maintains its full range of motion, as the inner joint is not affected
- Pain is usually more noticeable towards the end of the day
- Repeated twisting motions or activities that strain the tendon typically cause more pain
Tennis elbow is similar to another condition called golfer’s elbow, which affects the tendons on the inside of the elbow.
WHAT ARE THE TRADITIONAL TENNIS ELBOW TREATMENT OPTIONS?
To diagnose the source of your injury, your doctor will do a thorough exam. They may also request imaging tests, such as an X-ray or MRI, to diagnose the condition or rule out more serious injuries.
Tennis elbow is traditionally treated with a combination of physical therapy, icing, over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications, and rest. In some cases, a forearm brace is used to force the affected tendons to rest. Topical anti-inflammatory gels, topical cortisone gels, steroid injections, and a corticosteroid injections are also commonly used to treat this injury.
This conservative treatment is most often successful. However, the most important element in traditional care is tendon rest. Depending on the severity of your condition is, you may need to rest your tendon for weeks to months.
This injury can take from 6 months to 12 months to fully heal. There are cases of pain persisting for more than a year.
HOW CAN AIRROSTI HELP?
Many individuals suffering from this painful repetitive stress injury seek Airrosti care as an alternative to long periods of rest and inactivity. Airrosti can help dramatically speed recovery and provide immediate pain relief, without drugs or injections. Most patients are able to return to normal activity within only 1 to 3 visits, based on patient-reported outcomes.
Call Airrosti at (800) 404-6050 or click here to schedule your first worry-free visit so we can quickly get you on the road to recovery.
Reviewed by Casey Crisp, Doctor of Chiropractic