Don’t let its name deceive you: tennis elbow affects not only sports players but hard working labourers and older adults as well. If you fall under these categories, or if you’ve got the pesky tennis elbow for no comprehensible reason, you know how disabling it can be.
But, here’s good news: you don’t have to elbow grease your way to address it. We’re sharing with you some facts about tennis elbow—its causes, symptoms and the ways to prevent and treat it before it gets serious.
What is tennis elbow?
Tennis elbow is a painful overuse injury, one that occurs when the tendons that join your forearm muscles to your bones become inflamed or slightly torn due to overuse. For instance, tennis elbow can be brought on by repeating the same motions frequently. Tennis elbow, medically known as lateral epicondylitis, impacts the lateral (outside) epicondyle tendon, which connects to the muscles that stretch your wrist backward and allow you to spread your fingers.
Despite its name, tennis players are not the only ones who suffer from this condition. Besides athletes, individuals who often need to work their elbows, hands and wrists on a regular basis, such as plumbers, painters and construction workers, are at a higher risk of developing it.
Pain and tenderness are focused on the outside of the elbow, although they can radiate to your forearm and wrist as well.
Our elbow’s anatomy
As one of the most important and functional joints in our body, the elbow joint is made up of three bones: the humerus (upper arm bone), which runs from the shoulder to the elbow, and the radius and the ulna (forearm bones), which extend from the elbow to the wrist. The elbow joint is held together by several muscles, ligaments and tendons.
At the end of the humerus are bony bumps called epicondyles, and various forearm muscles are attached from this region. At the outside or lateral side of the elbow there are bony bumps, too, which are called lateral epicondyle, after which the medical term for tennis elbow is named after.
There are forearm tendons that attach a certain muscle called extensor carpi radialis brevis (ECRB) to the bone, and this region is one that’s affected when one suffers from a tennis elbow.
What’s the difference between tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow?
If you’ve heard about golfer’s elbow, you’ll be as confused as most of us about how these two conditions are similar, or different, from each other.
In essence, both are overuse injuries that occur on a person’s elbow joint. Also called medial epicondylitis, a golfer’s elbow is an irritation or inflammation on the inner side of the arm due to repeated flexing or twisting of the wrist.
Perhaps what sets them apart is the location of inflammation. while tennis elbow causes pain on the outside of the elbow, golfer’s elbow occurs on the inside. Golfer’s elbow affects the tendon that’s attached to the muscles responsible for flexing your wrist and contracting your fingers, such as when you’re gripping something.
What causes tennis elbow?
Too much strain on the muscles, the ECRB in the case of tennis elbow, can cause the elbow to weaken. The ECRB muscle stabilizes the wrist when the elbow is straightened, and as the elbow bends and straightens often, the said muscle rubs against the bony bumps, resulting in normal wear and tear.
This may lead to micro tears in the tendons that attach the ECRB to the lateral epicondyle, causing the outside of your elbow to get painful and inflamed.
Repetitive arm movements, gripping activities and extension (i.e. sticking your arms out behind you) can likewise cause stress in the muscles, tendons and ligaments, forearm, wrists and arms. Tennis players only comprise 10 percent of the patient population, and the rest are athletes who play fencing, weightlifting, racquetball and squash, and individuals whose jobs require them to move their elbows, hands and wrists repetitively.
Besides repetitive movements, age can be a risk factor for tennis elbow, with one study citing that the condition is more common in persons over the age of 40. Underlying causes may likely be loss of bone and muscle mass and flexibility, as well as regular wear and tear as we age.
What are the symptoms of a tennis elbow?
As an overuse injury, the signs and symptoms of tennis elbow develop overtime. In most cases, it starts as mild pain that gradually worsens. The most common symptoms for tennis elbow that could affect one or both arms include:
- Feeling pain or burning on the outer part of your elbow. The pain usually worsens when you move or use your arms and wrist.
- Weak grip strength when opening the door and shaking hands.
- Experiencing limited range of motion from the elbow. For instance, you may have difficulty raising your hand or straightening your wrist.
- Numbness and tingling in the fingers.
How to treat tennis elbow
Up to 90 percent of tennis elbow cases heal in one to two years with non-surgical treatments, which can be any of the following:
This doesn’t mean you’re tied to your bed while waiting to recover. Rather, simply avoid activities that can aggravate your condition and choose to perform gentle activities such as aerobic or cardio exercises.
Using an elbow ice pack that provides cold therapy compression helps ease pain and swelling, the hallmark signs of inflammation. Experts recommend applying elbow ice packs with compression for 20 minutes every three to four hours for two to three days.
Elbow strap or brace
An elbow strap or brace may help protect your elbows from further injuries and ease tennis elbow symptoms by reducing tension and stress on the muscles and tendons in and around the area.
Want a useful hack? You can use this elbow ice pack with professional-grade wrap to protect you from further injuries (just remove the gel inserts). This product comes highly recommended by users from all over the globe, citing its durability and value for money in treating acute injuries, chronic pain and post-surgery discomfort.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as naproxen, acetaminophen or ibuprofen may be taken to help reduce pain and swelling as well.
Seeking help from a physical therapist may be useful for quick recovery. Ask for a strength and flexibility exercise program that’s easy to do at home.
For moderate or more serious cases, your doctor may recommend anti-inflammatory steroidal injections. However, a study indicated that steroid injections may only be helpful for short-term treatment.
If non-surgical treatments fail to resolve your tennis elbow and your symptoms persist for six months to a year, your doctor may advise surgery to remove the damaged muscle and reattach the healthy muscle back to the bone.
Depending on your condition, your doctor may consider open or arthroscopic surgery, both of which are outpatient procedures that involve making incisions on the elbow.
As with other surgical procedures, there are things to consider when deciding to go under the knife. The risks involved are possible infection, blood vessel damage and the loss of strength and flexibility, among others. Luckily, very few cases of tennis elbow require surgical treatment.
How to prevent a tennis elbow
Prevention is always better than cure, and these are some of the ways you can steer clear of tennis elbow:
- Make your muscles more resilient by increasing your muscle strength and flexibility. Build strength by lifting light weights or performing finger, wrist flexor and other stretches.
- Warm up before any sports or work activity by stretching your upper (and lower) limbs.
- In some cases, an erratic form or technique while exercising or working puts too much stress on your elbow muscles and tendons, leading to tennis elbow. Avoid bending or straightening your upper arms and elbows all the way. Better ask a physical therapist for more advice.
- To ease pressure off your arm and elbow, and to further prevent your from getting injured, consider using a special brace for tennis elbow.
- Try to avoid making vigorous and repetitive hand and arm movements often.
With non-surgical treatments, simple home remedies and some minor adjustments to your movements, you can successfully resolve tennis elbow. For now, one of the most important steps to take is to grab this elbow ice pack that provides long-lasting cold compression and immediate pain relief.
We at Gelpacks.com are curious to know about your experiences with tennis elbow. What do you think are the best ways to deal with it? Comment below to share your thoughts.
Hi, I’m Steve Stretton, owner and manager at Gelpacks.com. If you have further questions about our cool products or need help about its uses, don’t hesitate, write to us here.