Tennis Elbow: Symptoms, Causes and Treatment
Tennis elbow or lateral epicondylitis is a form of tendonitis and no it isn’t always caused by playing tennis!
This inflammatory condition, which causes pain around the outside of the elbow is the leading cause of ongoing elbow pain affecting around 2% of the UK population. It is more common in those between 35 and 55 and is equally common in men and women.
Do I have Tennis Elbow?: Symptoms of Lateral Epicondylitis
The main symptom of tennis elbow is pain on the outside of the elbow, around the area where the nobbly bit of bone, or lateral epicondyle, sticks out. This area is usually tender but the pain can also spread down the forearm and even to the back of your hand especially when it is in use.
The pain of tennis elbow will often worsen while using your arm, especially during repetitive movements and when twisting and/or gripping. Movements that will exacerbate symptoms of tennis elbow are things like:
Turning door handles.
Gripping and moving with an object such as using a pen, or lifting a mug.
However, the pain of tennis elbow does not automatically stop when the movements stop, pain can continue when your arm is at rest. It is a medium-term condition, often lasting between 6 months and 2 years though healing can be promoted with treatment such as osteopathy and physiotherapy.
Do I Have Tennis Elbow or Golfers Elbow? What’s the Difference?
Despite the names, golfers can get tennis elbow; in fact, some reports suggest that tennis elbow is more common in golfers than golfers elbow is!
Tennis players can also get golfers elbow.
Both these conditions are caused by repetitive movements, especially when gripping something is involved. Both tennis elbow and golfers elbow are also forms of tendonitis, which is inflammation and often tiny tears in the tendons.
The difference between these two conditions is that:
Golfer's elbow affects the inside of the elbow and the inner forearm.
Tennis elbow affects the outer elbow and outer forearm.
Treatments that benefit Tennis Elbow can be similarly applied to Golfer's Elbow too.
Causes of Tennis Elbow
Most commonly, tennis elbow is caused by the overworking of the muscles in the forearm. Especially when combined with repetitive movements which involve grip.
Occasionally a hard bump or sharp pull on the elbow can cause tennis elbow, and can certainly make symptoms worse, too.
Strained muscles in the forearm lead to inflammation and small tears in the tendons that attach the forearm muscles to the elbow.
Some hobbies, tasks, and jobs are particularly renowned for causing Tennis Elbow including:
Playing some instruments like the violin or cello.
Driving for long periods (changing gear and gripping and turning the steering wheel). This is sometimes called ‘Truckers Elbow’.
Sports that involve a mix of grip and high-impact such as tennis, squash, and golf.
Decorating (holding and moving a paintbrush or roller).
Home repairs especially those requiring small handheld tools such as screwdrivers.
Previous and existing problems with the neck, back and shoulders can make tennis elbow more likely too.
Treatments for Tennis Elbow
Time is the real healer for tennis elbow. By avoiding the activities that were the cause the condition should be very close to fully healed within 6 months to 2 years without any outside treatment at all. This is because Tennis Elbow is what’s known as a self-limiting condition.
However, there are plenty of ways that you can help speed up the process and alleviate some of the pain and discomfort while you’re at it. We’ll go through them below.
Alternating Ice Packs and Heat Pads
Wrapping an ice pack in a towel and holding it on the elbow area for around 15 minutes every 5 or so hours can help with the inflammation of the tendon associated with tennis elbow and indeed all tendon injuries.
However, with tendonitis, as Tennis Elbow is a form of tendonitis, heat can help because it increases blood flow to the area which promotes healing. The heat from a heat pad will also help the muscles to relax which can alleviate pain.
Support Bandages or Strapping
Following the initial muscle strain and tendon injuries, ie. when the problem first arises, strapping or a support bandage may help limit the work that the tendons do in normal day-to-day activities. It may also serve as a reminder to limit the elbow's use to help the body heal. Wearing a support bandage from time to time, when using the elbow is unavoidable for example, can be helpful too but it is not recommended to wear a support, splint or strap over long periods.
As osteopathy is a holistic treatment and involves a variety of different techniques, tennis elbow can respond well to it.
Typically an osteopathic appointment for tennis elbow will involve the following:
This is to diagnose the problems and determine whether tennis elbow is indeed the problem causing your elbow pain. Its similarity to golfer’s elbow means the two are sometimes confused and it is important to eliminate this as well as any other potential causes.
Your osteopath will encourage the natural healing process by supporting the elbow while gently manipulating it and possibly the wrist, neck and shoulders too. This can help realign the tendons and increase blood flow, as well as allow the elbow to move while the weight of the arm is supported reducing the stiffness associated with tennis elbow.
As well as providing pain relief through relaxing the muscles, massage also supports the body’s natural healing processes by stimulating circulation and nutrient supply to the area.
During your osteopathic treatment for tennis elbow the muscles around the elbow joint particularly in the forearm might be gently stretched, relaxed and lengthened using muscle energy technique.
To aid further healing your osteopath will prescribe exercises that you can do at home to gently stretch and strengthen the required muscles and muscle groups.
A physiotherapist can provide both pain relief and promote faster healing for tennis elbow. By using stretching techniques and massage as well as mobilising the area affected your physiotherapist will increase the nutrient-rich blood flow to the area, increase mobility and reduce pain. You will also be advised of appropriate exercises to undertake to speed the healing process.
Contact Brixton Therapy Centre to Book an Appointment to Diagnose and Treat Tennis Elbow
Our team at Brixton Therapy Centre includes a number of highly trained, expert osteopaths and physiotherapists. So, whichever of these routes you choose to help you fight elbow pain our welcoming and regularly five-star reviewed practice can help.