3 min read

Serving Up Some Tennis Elbow

The term tennis elbow sounds like an injury applicable to only tennis players. But that’s far from the truth. Tennis elbow, called lateral epicondylitis, is simply pain that happens on the outside of the elbow. The problem is often due to inflammation of the tendons that help with wrist extension. The name comes from the fact that 1 in 2 tennis players will have the condition at some point. While tennis elbow is painful, there is some promise on the ability to heal without surgery.

What causes tennis elbow?

Overuse of the tendon that runs on the outside of the elbow often causes inflammation. The most common cause is the overuse of the wrist and elbow. Persons who work in jobs that carry heavy loads or use heavy machinery are prone to tennis elbow. Doctors have also noticed tennis elbow from repetitive stress actions. Sleeping on the elbow or wrist can cause pain. And, of course, tennis players, golfers, and pitchers.

Are there any symptoms?

Most persons with tennis elbow will feel mild pain that can grow in intensity with use. Some people may feel swelling and tenderness in the area. The pain can move from the elbow and down the forearm, causing weakness and a reduced grip. Since tennis elbow is related to grip strength, having difficulty squeezing or gripping items is also common. These symptoms can affect everyday life, especially with athletes. Luckily, there are several non-surgical treatments available.

Give it a rest!

For most cases, a combination of rest, ice, and elbow elevation can help with the pain. By reducing activities and taking more rest periods, the inflammation can heal within a few weeks. If proper rest is unavoidable, there are several bracing options, like counterforce straps. These braces reduce the tension by providing a slight resistance.

Opt for physical therapy

Along with rest and bracing, physical therapy can help if the pain continues to affect the quality of life. The therapist and patient can use a series of exercises, stretching, and massage therapy to reduce pain. These exercises also strengthen the surrounding muscles to support the elbow better. In most cases, physical therapy is an effective, long-term solution. The physical therapist will go a step further and teach the patient different exercises to perform at home.

Medication and other alternative treatments

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication can help for bouts of acute pain. For long-term relief, some doctors may perform a corticosteroid injection. The drug is injected into the problem area and can provide relief for several months. Over the years, several alternative therapies, like ultrasound therapy and shockwave therapy, has shown promise. PRP, or platelet-rich plasma injection, has also shown promising results. PRP injects the patient’s plasma to accelerate healing. Speak with a doctor about the availability of these treatments.

When all else fails

Fortunately, the majority of tennis elbow cases do not need surgery. Doctors will often work with the patient and a physical therapist to exhaust all non-surgical options. However, there are a few cases where surgery is best. The surgeon will use arthroscopy to access the tendons. This minimally invasive technique allows the surgeon to remove the degenerative tissue. With any surgery, there are risks to consider. However, the procedure has up to a 90% success rate.

Get tennis elbow under control

Tennis elbow can be painful and reduces the use of the arm. In chronic cases, tennis elbow can cost patients significantly. However, the condition can heal with rest and other supporting treatments like physical therapy. In rare, chronic cases, surgery will be best. Don’t ignore the pain. Speak with a doctor immediately for options to help with tennis elbow today.