You may have been recently told that the pain in your elbow or the discomfort you feel when gripping objects is "tennis elbow." Believe it or not, playing tennis isn't required to develop this injury. Here, our Orleans physical therapists explain what tennis elbow is and how physiotherapy can help.
Even if you haven't ever played tennis, chances are you have heard about tennis elbow before. Depending on the kinds of physical activity you routinely engage in, you may even develop this injury yourself! Common actions like turning a screwdriver, if done routinely for long periods of time, may even contribute to developing this injury.
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 persistent over long periods of time flaring up as your levels of activity do when it comes to engaging your elbow. The key to avoiding tennis elbow becoming a lifelong companion is to identify it as it develops early and take the necessary steps to address it - not only as a source of pain, but the root action that is causing the injury in the first place.
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.
Two common factors that can contribute to the development of tennis elbow include:
- 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.
- 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.
How to treat tennis elbow?
If you notice the development of tennis elbow early on, when it is just starting to cause some discomfort, you will often be able to manage it with icing, rest and over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications. However, this may only address the symptoms of the pain you are feeling, instead of the cause of why your elbow is becoming strained in the first place.
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 main goal of physical therapy for tennis elbow is to alleviate your elbow pain. In addition to this, we will also work to encourage strength and flexibility in your elbow in addition to the surrounding muscle groups so that your joint and its connective tissues 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, your physiotherapists will prescribe active physiotherapy treatments such as prescribed exercises for your injury.
These stretches, activities and exercises are designed to support the recovery of your joint and to encourage blood flow, oxygenation of the connective tissues affected, and eventually restore the strength and mobility of your injuries elbow in order to prevent the injury from reoccurring.
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