Tennis elbow is not exclusive to active tennis players, in fact it’s possible for people who are not very active to develop inflammation in the elbow area. The inflammation affects the elbow joint that is held together by muscles, ligaments, as well as tendons and is accompanied by acute burning pain.
Work or recreational activities that involve repeating the same action may strain the muscles and tendons of your forearm, which help extend your wrist and fingers. Tennis elbow usually damages the tendons that attach on the lateral epicondyle, called the Extensor Carpi Radialis Brevis (ECRB).
There may be a sudden onset of inflammation and pain from microscopic tears in the tendon after a damaging, unaccustomed wrist extension. The ECRB muscle helps stabilize the wrist when the elbow is straight. The repetitive strain of bending and straightening the elbow causes the muscles to rub against bony bumps. Over time this can lead to gradual weakening from wear and tear of the ECRB muscle.
Symptoms of Tennis Elbow
Patients with tennis elbow may experience a burning or tingling sensation, followed by tenderness, around the outside of the elbow. Symptoms may appear progressively over several weeks or months before the pain is felt in other areas of the arm – as far down as the wrist.
There is general weakness of the arm and difficulty gripping objects with your hand. Activities like shaking hands, twisting keys, or gripping an object in the hand may be difficult due to tendon damage.
Treatment for Tennis Elbow
A combination of treatments may be effective in pain relief and prevention of symptom recurrence. Proper diagnosis and identifying the cause for your tennis elbow can help decide on the correct treatment path for quick relief. These are some treatment options available:
Rest and Ice
Repetitive activities that place a large strain on the elbow such as playing tennis, tightly grasping things, or any repetitive motion may worsen your condition, so the most essential aspect of your treatment is rest. Cold therapy for the elbow (apply ice 15 minutes many times a day) helps to reduce pain and inflammation.
Tennis elbow brace
Your doctor may prescribe an elbow brace to support your muscles and heal your strained tendons as you go about your daily life. For it to effectively reduce pain during activities it has to be worn correctly around the upper forearm.
Wrist extension, stretching and forearm strengthening exercises are important to start as soon as pain subsides. Gradually increase the load through the tendon so that the muscles of your forearm can return to full fitness and strength. A physical therapist can help with specific exercises to increase your strength and range of motion.
Electrotherapy may reduce pain and inflammation with application of different energy sources to the soft tissues. The methods commonly used are:
- Ultrasound high frequency sound waves are applied into the tissues to generate vibration and heat for relief.
- High intensity laser light may be used on the tendon to reduce pain, inflammation and promote cell regeneration
- Extracorporeal shock wave therapy creates ‘microtrauma’ by passing short bursts of intense energy waves into the elbow tissues to promote the body’s natural healing process.
Surgery may be considered as a last option and if the condition persists for over a year with conservative treatment.
The Illinois Bone & Joint Institute has more than 90 orthopedic physicians, and 20 locations throughout Chicago. We’re here to help you move better so you can live better.
Signs and Symptoms
Pain is the primary reason for patients to seek medical evaluation. The pain is located on the outside of the elbow, over the bone known as the lateral epicondyle. This area becomes tender and painful with activities which stress the tendon, such as gripping or lifting. The pain usually begins at the elbow and may travel down the forearm. Occasionally, any motion of the elbow can be painful.