Tennis Elbow – Not just a sport injury!

What is Tennis Elbow?

Tennis elbow, or lateral epicondylitis, is a condition where the tendons of your forearm become irritated and painful from overuse. With tennis elbow, simple movements like opening a jar or turning a doorknob can be weak and painful, and the more you use these muscles through the day the worse the pain gets. Once these symptoms come on, they can be difficult to get rid of, especially if those repetitive activities continue.

Who is affected?

Tennis elbow is most common in people age 30-50. The injury is most often caused by repetitive strain and overuse of the muscles of the forearm from activities like computer work, lifting and carrying, or certain sports like golf or tennis (surprise!).

Are we sure this is tennis elbow?

If your symptoms match up with our description of tennis elbow so far, we may have identified the problem! However, there are many other conditions that can mimic the symptoms of tennis elbow, including:

  • Nerve-related elbow pain
  • Elbow osteoarthritis
  • Elbow fracture
  • Neck-related injuries
  • Fibromyalgia

Your therapist will ask questions and conduct tests to come to the most likely diagnosis here.

The anatomy behind the pain

Many of the muscles that support your hand and wrist are found on the back of your forearm. These muscles group together and connect to the outside of your elbow at a single point. When the tendons at this point become irritated, it causes pain with gripping and moving your fingers, wrist, or elbow.

Picture 1: Forearm muscles group into tendons that connect to the outside of the elbow.

How will I get rid of this?

For most cases of this injury, physiotherapy can be a big help! One of the first things your therapist might have you try, especially if it is in the first few weeks since the injury started, is to give the elbow some rest if able. The injured tendons may not get the time they need to heal properly if they continue to be repetitively strained. In some cases where resting the tendons is not possible, a brace that helps to support the forearm may be helpful.

Another important part of treatment for Tennis Elbow is to properly stretch and strengthen the injured muscles so that they can handle the repetitive strain better. Your therapist will prescribe some exercises for you based on your forearm muscle function to improve strength while not overstraining the injured tendons.

In some cases, your therapist may use dry needling techniques to help restore function and improve pain in your forearm muscles (see our article about dry needling here!).

If you have been experiencing this injury for a long period of time (>3 months), you may benefit from shockwave treatment, which helps to restart and support the healing process (see our article about shockwave here!).

About The Author

Jonathan Ranking obtained his MSc in Physiotherapy at McMaster University, and also completed both a BSc and an MSc in Human Kinetics from the University of Ottawa. He has a strong background in exercise, from working as a personal trainer at the University of Ottawa to conducting research on exercise during pregnancy in his master’s degree.

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