Tennis Elbow (Lateral Epicondylitis, Elbow Pain) Treatment
If you suffer from elbow pain, chances are you have tennis elbow, or lateral epicondylitis. This condition is often caused by overuse of the arm (repetitive stress) and can be acute or chronic. If you have pain in the elbow, it’s best to get it assessed to rule out other causes of elbow pain. If you do indeed have tennis elbows, there are several treatment options, the most important of which is rest”.
What is tennis elbow?
Tennis elbow is pain that occurs on the outside (lateral aspect) of the elbow, close to where the upper arm and elbow come together. The condition is common in tennis players because of the way tennis players swing their rackets (backhand strokes are usually the culprit), but it can occur in anyone who uses their elbow to excess. Constant twisting of the wrist, (as occurs when using a screwdriver, for example) can cause tennis elbow, so painters, construction workers, cooks and other workers who use their forearm muscles a lot are particularly vulnerable to tennis elbow. Tennis elbow can also occur from a one-time activity such as raking the lawn if it is done to excess. Using a mouse and computer keyboard too much can also give rise to inflammation.
Muscles in your forearm attach to the bone via tendons at the outside of the elbow. Excessive use of your elbow results in tiny tears in these tendons (may be one tendon, or more than one tendon affected). These tiny tears lead to inflammation and irritation and give rise to the symptoms of tennis elbow.
What are the symptoms of tennis elbow?
- pain in the elbow that gets worse gradually (may be worse in the morning upon arising)
- inability to grasp objects due to a weak grasp
- pain radiates from the elbow to the forearm, and even the hand, when an object is grasped or turned/twisted
- redness/swelling over the lateral epicondyle (bony protrusion on the outside of the elbow)
- increasing pain when the wrist is flexed with the arm in a straight position
- point tenderness over the area of inflammation
How is tennis elbow diagnosed?
If you come to see us complaining of elbow pain, we will ask you when your symptoms started and what caused them (if you can remember). We will ask what makes the pain better or worse and what you have tried at home to alleviate the pain. We will examine your elbow for redness, swelling and pain on palpation over the outer aspect of your elbow. We will have you perform different maneuvers with your arm to see which movements reproduce the pain.
Tennis elbow can often be diagnosed based on symptoms and examination. If we have any doubt as to what is causing your symptoms, we may order an x-ray of your elbow. The x-ray will rule out other problems, such as a fracture, and will show if you have soft tissue swelling around the elbow joint. You can’t see tendons on an x-ray. X-rays are performed to rule out other concerns, not to diagnose tennis elbow.
Can tennis elbow be treated?
Yes, tennis elbow can be treated. Sometimes it takes a long time, and it requires your cooperation. The most important part of treatment is to rest the elbow. You will need to stop doing whatever activity it was that caused the tennis elbow to occur. If you got tennis elbow from the type of work you do, you may need to take some time off work.
Drugs that reduce inflammation may help with the pain and decrease swelling, so we may prescribe an anti-inflammatory agent, either prescription strength or over-the-counter. You should also ice the area 3 times a day for the first week or so. There are tennis elbow braces that can help to decrease pain when you use your affected arm- these can be purchased in any pharmacy or home health store.
If the above measures don’t help, we can inject a corticosteroid into the elbow, which often relieves symptoms for weeks or even months. We can discuss this option if rest, ice and anti-inflammatories do not help. However, rest is the most important thing you can do to help your tennis elbow heal faster. If you continue to use your elbow, your symptoms may become chronic.
If you have had tennis elbow for longer than 6 months to a year and your symptoms have not improved, it may be time to talk to a surgeon. Surgery does not always help with tennis elbow, but it is an option for some. If you need a referral to a surgeon, we can provide you with one.
If you have tennis elbow, it is important that you make sure that tennis elbow is actually the problem. If you have elbow pain it is best to have your elbow assessed. Make an appointment to see us in the clinic.