Tennis elbow, also known as lateral epicondylitis, is an inflammation of the tendons caused by overuse. It affects the tendons on the outside of the elbow that connect the forearm muscles to the bone. Pain is usually felt at the bony prominence located on the outer aspect of the elbow.
Causes of tennis elbow
Tennis elbow occurs when the extensor carpi radialisbrevis – one of the muscles that runs from the wrist to the elbow and helps extend, raise and stabilize the wrist – is weakened due to overuse. This can lead to tiny tears in the tendons on the outside of the elbow, which, in turn,causes the inflammation and pain seen in tennis elbow.
The condition is commonly referred to as tennis elbow because certain repetitive motions, such as a tennis swing, can lead to overuse of the tendons, resulting pain and inflammation. But tennis elbow can be seen in other sports, like swimming and fencing, and can also strike those who work in jobs that require repetitive wrist and forearm movement including plumbers, carpenters, painters, waitresses and butchers.
Tennis elbow occurs most commonly in adults between the ages of 30 to 50, although anyone can get it.
Symptoms of tennis elbow
Typical symptoms of tennis elbow include:
- Pain on the outer elbow that becomes worse when you use your forearm muscles to grip or lift an object, shake hands or making a turning motion with your hand and wrist
- Muscle weakness and diminished grip strength is also common
Tennis elbow symptoms are most often seen on the dominant side, since this arm is the one most likely exposed to repetitive motion.
Treatment of tennis elbow
Rest is often all the treatment required and as many as 95 percent of tennis elbow cases resolve without medical intervention. However, this can be challenging because healing can take several weeks.
Other non-surgical treatment options include:
- Anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen to relieve pain and decrease inflammation
- Physical therapy exercises designed to strengthen forearm muscles
- Support braces worn over the back of the forearm that allow the affected muscles to rest
- Injections of cortisone given directly into the affected muscle to reduce inflammation
- Platelet-rich plasma, a mixture of the patient’s own blood which has been mixed with a high concentration of protein to promote healing
When non-surgical treatment methods are not successful after a period of 6 to 12 months, surgery may be necessary to removed damaged muscle. The surgery is usually performed through a larger incision over the elbow. But, in some cases,can be done through a less invasive arthroscopic procedure.
After a brief period of immobilization (approximately one week) using a splint or brace, rehabilitation begins.