Whether or not you have a background in health, you’ve likely heard of the “Tennis Elbow” before. It is the most common cause of elbow pain in the adult population, afflicting up to 3% of people at any point in time. However, despite the name, only 5% of those with “Tennis elbow” develop pain as a consequence of tennis(1). So what is “Tennis Elbow” and how do we fix it?
What is “Tennis Elbow”?
“Tennis Elbow” is a form of tendinitis, with its official name being lateral epicondylitis. The lateral epicondyle is where the tendons of the wrist extensor muscles attach, on the outside of the elbow. Injury occurs when these muscle tendons become overworked in activities which involve gripping, lifting or wrist extension(2).
Usually, this pain will arise when there has been an increase in load placed on the muscle tendon or the tendon is not accustomed to that specific activity. As such, onset of pain may coincide with a new racquet, change in technique, overtraining, or a shoulder injury.
In “Tennis Elbow”, Pain or soreness often starts at the elbow and may radiate down the forearm, wrist or even into the hand. Strength in gripping and wrist extension may also be reduced. In the later stages of “Tennis Elbow” even simple activities, such as picking up coffee cup or turning a key in the door are also painful.
How do we treat “Tennis Elbow”?
The good news is that 80-90% of those with “Tennis Elbow” will find pain will resolve without needing invasive therapies, such as surgery or injections(2).
First line of treatment involves settling the pain at the elbow, normally this includes a period of rest from the offending activities, oral anti-inflammatory medication and icing the elbow(1). Afterwards, a progressive exercise program for the wrist extensor muscles should be undertaken to re-introduce load to the tendon in a step-wise fashion. In addition, your Physio may recommend an elbow strap to help take the stress off the muscles and help you return to sport sooner.
1. Buchanan BK, Varacallo M. Tennis Elbow (Lateral Epicondylitis) [Updated 2019 Jan 20]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2019 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK431092/
2. Bisset, L., Coombes, B., & Vicenzino, B. (2011). Tennis elbow. BMJ clinical evidence, 2011, 1117.