You may have been told recently that the pain in your elbow or discomfort when gripping objects is lateral epicondylitis - commonly known as 'tennis elbow.' Believe it or not, playing tennis isn't a prerequisite for this common condition, it can arise from repeated actions that cause inflammation in your tendons. Here, our Nepean physiotherapy team explains what tennis elbow is and how physical therapy can help.
Even if you've never touched a racket in your life, chances are you have heard of tennis elbow - and depending on what kinds of physical activity you participate in through work or play, you may even develop it yourself! Common actions like turning a screwdriver consistently over long periods of time may even contribute to the development of this condition.
What is tennis elbow?
Tennis elbow - also called lateral epicondylitis - is the swelling of the tendons in your elbow in response to strain. This condition can cause a number of different uncomfortable symptoms, including:
- pain on the outer side of your elbow
- general discomfort with the act of gripping an object, bending your elbow, or pressing upwards against an object with your palm
- a very tender point about an inch or so past the bony part of your outer elbow
This issue can be quite persistent over long periods of time, coming and going with your levels of activity and as you rest your elbow and re-engage it. The key to avoiding tennis elbow becoming a lifelong problem is to identify it early and take steps in address not only the pain, but the root cause of it.
What this should look like will depend on the stage of your healing you are in and the factors that are contributing to you developing this painful condition.
What factors contribute to tennis elbow?
Every case of tennis elbow will develop and present slightly differently, and these differences will be critical to your ability to plan your treatment and recovery.
Some of the most common factors that may contribute to the development of tennis elbow include:
- Repetitive Motion - Tendons and other connective tissues will generally either break or sustain damage when they either are placed under a great deal of force or impact, or when they undergo the same small force or impact repeatedly over long periods of time, weakening them. The latter is more common, and because of this, people who play sports, work or participate in hobbies that require repetitive small strains on their elbows will be more likely to develop tennis elbow.
- Muscle Tightness - The tendons affected by tennis elbow are directly attached to the muscles on either side of your elbow, tightness in the surrounding muscles and joints, such as the shoulder, forearms or wrists, may all place greater string on your elbows and contribute to you straining your tendons to the point where they become injured and cause pain.
How to treat tennis elbow?
If you catch tennis elbow early, when it is just beginning to cause discomfort, you will often be able to manage it with over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications, ice and rest. However, this may only address the symptoms of the pain you are feeling rather than the root cause of why your elbow is coming strained.
If you are looking to treat the cause of your tennis elbow rather than just manage your pain, a physiotherapist will be the health professional to see. Physiotherapists are able to work with you to identify what movements, habits and activities are contributing to your pain, and how you can participate in them safely.
How can physiotherapy treat tennis elbow?
The goal of physical therapy for tennis elbow is to both alleviate your elbow pain, as well as address strength and flexibility both in your elbow and the surrounding muscle groups and joints so that your tendons have as much support as possible.
At first, this will likely include passive physiotherapy treatments such as hot and cold therapies, manual therapy as well as tape, straps or braces for your elbow to physically support your joint.
After the initial assessment and treatment of your tennis elbow, our physiotherapists will move on to prescribe active physiotherapy treatments, or prescribed exercises, that are designed to support the recovery of your elbow and encourage things like blood flow, oxygenation of the connective tissues, and eventually, enough strength that your tennis elbow is very unlikely to arise ever again (as long as you remain committed to your exercises).
Some examples of exercises that your Nepean physiotherapists may recommend for patients with tennis elbow may include:
- Wrist flexor stretches
- Ball squeezes
- Finger stretches
- Forearm strengthening
- And much more
Before undertaking any exercises while experiencing tennis elbow, you should always consult a physiotherapist.
When suffering from a condition or injury, exercising the part of your body experiencing pain may just as easily make the injury worse as it could help to alleviate your pain and strengthen your body.
Are your experiencing pain and discomfort in your arm from tennis elbow?
Our team of physiotherapists are here to help you recover.
Welcome to the Nepean Sports Medicine & Physiotherapy Centre blog, where we provide lots of helpful tips, news, information and advice about physiotherapy and massage treatments, as well as general health and wellness, in Nepean and Ottawa.