Tennis elbow is described as the overuse of one’s hand muscles, arm, and/forearm. This type of elbow pain is common among tennis players (thus the term), but it could be anyone who misuses those particular parts of their body. Normally, the elbow injury is found in the dominant arm; if a patient experiences pain in the right arm, then he’s most likely right-handed. Yet it can still happen the non-dominant arm, sometimes even both arms.
Who else develops Tennis Elbow?
Apart from athletes and people who are into physical activities, such as marathon runs, morning jogs, or home workouts, even the average individual can suffer from this ailment. People who work in carpentry, plumbing, and painting are also prone to developing the condition. According to studies, cooks, butchers, and auto workers are more likely to get the condition compared to others; the weight lifting and the repetition of their work are said to be the factors that lead to the injury.
The medical condition is caused by a subtle or sudden injury of the tendon and muscle around the outside of the patient’s elbow. It involves the area where forearm tendons and muscles join the lateral epicondyle (the outer bony area of the elbow). If diagnosed, the doctor will formally call it lateral epicondylitis. If it involves the inside of the elbow, you may be diagnosed with medial epicondylitis, commonly known as “golfer’s elbow.” Suffering this injury may also affect the back part of the elbow.
If the elbow pain is not caused by an injury, it may be due to age. It’s a natural phenomenon that growing old will cause the body some changes that sometimes cannot be prevented. Tennis elbow is one of them. By the time you are 30 or 50, you may experience pain in certain parts of your body that were never there before, especially if you have the risk factors. But even before you reach that age, you have to make sure you don’t overuse those parts of your body (and perhaps other parts as well) to reduce the risk of getting this condition in the long run.
Sometimes the cause of a lateral epicondylitis may be unknown, without any identified chronic injury in the body part. The case is considered of “insidious” cause.
Depending on how severe the injury is, this elbow pain can be treated surgically or non-surgically.
The success rate of non-surgical treatments is approximately 80-95%.
Rest – like any injury, elbow pain can be relieved by resting the arm and forearm. That means physical sports and other activities that require heavy work will not be allowed until the pain goes away completely; usually, that takes several weeks.
NSAIDs (Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs) and pain killers – aside from rest, medication may as well be needed to treat the inflammation of the muscle and tendons and the pain experienced in or around the elbow.
Physical therapy – this can help improve the condition of the forearm if it has been injured by lateral epicondylitis. Massages and stretches are exercises that a patient should have on a daily basis to strengthen the muscles.
Extracorporeal shockwave therapy – this kind of therapy involves sending shockwaves to the elbow, creating microtrauma, which makes it possible for the body to heal itself. While this treatment is uncommon and experimental, there are those who say it has provided good results.
Steroid injections – cortisone steroids will be injected to the damaged muscle/s to reduce the inflammation. One or more sessions may be needed for this treatment, depending on how the symptoms respond to the medicine.
Brace – a brace may be used on the forearm to prevent from overstraining the elbow. This helps relax the tendons and muscles.
If the injury isn’t as harsh, your doctor may allow you to go back to playing sports. However, you will need to check your equipment (should you be needing any) first to ensure that it does not strain or worsen your condition. For instance, if you play tennis, you will have to get a racquet that’s lighter and much more comfortable.
Typically, if the pain does not go away even after getting non-surgical treatments from 6-12 months, your medical specialist might suggest going through a surgical procedure. Most surgeries will need to remove the injured area/s or repair them; each will vary based on the seriousness or the level of damage inflicted on the muscles or tendons.
Arthroscopic surgery – this involves making small incisions using the appropriate tools to repair elbow damages. It’s an outpatient procedure, which means a patient can go home after the surgery is done.
Open surgery – this is perhaps the most common surgical treatment to tennis elbow. It involves the surgeon making an incision in the affected area and repair the damaged muscle or tendons. Like arthroscopic surgery, it is an outpatient kind of procedure.
After the surgery, your will need plenty of rest to help your arm recover quickly. You will not be able to move your arm, as it will be supported by a splint. After a week, it will be removed, but you will still need to rest your arm for a few more weeks, if needed. Rest will be paired with exercises to improve the flexibility of the arm. Stretches that aren’t as arduous, for example, will be recommended, but only after two months from surgery.
You may be able to go back to normal physical activities after 4-6 months. And while majority of the procedures are successful, a slight loss of strength in the arm may be expected.
To avoid having to lose strength, minimize the use and stress on your arm, or your elbow pain (if you have the condition already). Let your arm rest often; any slight signs of strain should indicate that. Massages and stretching exercises keep your arm flexible and strong. In the event of soreness, take ibuprofen to relieve the pain. If it becomes intolerable, seek medical help as soon as possible. Do not wait until the damage turns irreversible or extreme.