Lateral epicondylitis is commonly known as 'tennis elbow.' Believe it or not, you need not play tennis to have this common condition, as it can arise from repeated actions that cause inflammation in the tendons. Today, our Manotick physiotherapists explain what tennis elbow is and how physical therapy can help.
Do you participate in physical activity through work or play? Even if you've never touched a racket, you have likely heard of tennis elbow, and depending on the types of physical activity you perform, you may develop it yourself.
Common actions such as turning a screwdriver consistently over long periods of time can even be a contributing factor causing you to develop this condition.
What is tennis elbow?
Also referred to as lateral epicondylitis, tennis elbow is the swelling of the tendons in your elbow in response to strain. The condition can lead to a range of uncomfortable symptoms, including:
- a very tender point about one inch or so past the bony part of your outer elbow
- pain on the outer side of your elbow
- general discomfort with the act of bending your elbow, gripping an object, or pressing upwards against an object with your palm
The problem can become quite persistent over long periods of time, coming and going depending on your level of activity and as you rest your elbow and re-engage it. The key to preventing tennis elbow from becoming a lifelong issue is to have it identified early and take steps to address not only the pain, but the root cause of it.
What this may look like will be determined by the stage of your healing and the factors that contributed to the development of this painful condition in the first place.
Which factors contribute to tennis elbow?
Each case of tennis elbow will develop and present slightly differently. These differences will be critical to your ability to plan for treatment and recovery.
Some common factors that can contribute to people developing tennis elbow include:
- Muscle Tightness - The tendons impacted by tennis elbow are directly attached to the muscles on either side of your elbow. Tightness in the surrounding joints and muscles such as the shoulder, forearms or wrists may all place greater strain on your elbows and contribute to your tendons becoming strained to the point where they become injured and cause pain.
- Repetitive Motion - Generally, tendons and other connective tissues will sustain damage or break when they are either placed under a great deal of impact or force, or when they experience the same small impact or force repeatedly over long periods of time, causing them to weaken. Because the latter is more common, people who work or participate in hobbies or play sports that require repetitive small strains on their elbows will be more at risk of developing tennis elbow.
How is tennis elbow treated?
If tennis elbow is detected early, when discomfort is in its early stages, you'll often be able to manage it with rest, ice and over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications.
However, this may only address the symptoms of pain you are feeling rather than the root cause of your strained elbow.
If you looking to treat the cause of your tennis elbow as opposed to managing pain, we recommend seeing a physiotherapist.
These health professionals can work with you to identify which habits, activities and movements are contributing to your pain and how you can do them safely.
How can physiotherapy treat tennis elbow?
The goal of physical therapy for tennis elbow is to both alleviate your elbow pain, as well as address strength and flexibility both in your elbow and the surrounding muscle groups and joints so that your tendons 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, our physiotherapists will move on to prescribe active physiotherapy treatments, or prescribed exercises, that are designed to support the recovery of your elbow and encourage things like blood flow, oxygenation of the connective tissues, and eventually, enough strength that your tennis elbow is very unlikely to arise ever again (as long as you remain committed to your exercises).
Some examples of exercises that your Nepean physiotherapists may recommend for patients with tennis elbow may include:
- Strengthening your forearm
- Ball squeezes
- Wrist flexor stretches
- Finger stretches
- And much more
Before performing any exercises while experiencing tennis elbow, always consult a physiotherapist.
When suffering from an injury or condition, exercising the part of your body experiencing pain may just as easily make the injury worse as it could help to alleviate your pain and strengthen your body.