So, your elbow hurts. The doctor says its tennis elbow. How can that be? The last time you touched your tennis racquet it was 2 years ago, and then it was only to knock down spider webs from the ceiling. Has your doctor lost his/her mind? Probably not. The medical term for tennis elbow is lateral epicondylitis, and it is a very common condition that causes elbow pain. It is a form of tendinitis (inflammation of the tendon). This is a repetitive motion injury and although it is often seen among tennis players, it can affect anyone who frequently uses their wrist and forearm. Lateral epicondylitis involves the muscles that extend the wrist, primarily the extensor carpi radialis brevis, and it’s tendon. A tendon attaches a muscle to a bone. This condition is usually gradual and pain is felt most often after an activity. This is the tissues response to “fatigue stresses”. In other words, the muscles fatigue and you continue to use them. You may first notice this after a carpentry project, or an extended pruning job. Pain and tenderness to the lateral epicondyle characterize tennis elbow. The lateral epicondyle is the bump that can be felt on the outside, or lateral side, of the elbow. There may also be soreness that extends down the back of the forearm and into the wrist. The medial or inside of the elbow can also be affected by tendinitis. This condition is known as medial epicondylitis, or golfers elbow.
Unfortunately, this can be a very persistent problem, and will often become a chronic (long-standing) condition. As the condition progresses, you may have pain during activity and even at rest. If you continue to perform the activity that stresses the tendon, the area will not have a chance to heal, and will lead to further tissue damage, and the inflammatory process will continue. On the other hand, if you stop all activity and do not address the underlying problem, the tissue will again break down once you resume your activities.
If you are having elbow pain and are not sure how to get rid of it, or how to keep it from returning, you may want to see a licensed physical therapist. Knowing what to do and how to safely do it, is the key. Stretching, strengthening, massage and modalities all play a role in the rehab of tennis elbow. Hopefully you’ll be back to using your tennis racquet (or hammer, or pruning shears) before you know it.