What is tennis elbow?
Epicondylitis – or tennis elbow in everyday speech – is a condition that causes pain, as it overloads the tendon-bone attachments in the elbow. Although tennis elbow is the most frequent term, it is technically only correct to speak of tennis elbow only when it occurs explicitly on the outside of the elbow – also known as lateral epicondylitis. If the pain is felt on the inside of the elbow, it is a golfing elbow – also referred to as medial epicondylitis.
Tennis elbow happens when there are minor ruptures in the connective tissue that bind the muscles to the bones on the outside of the elbow. These muscles stretch fingers and bend wrists. This will irritate the tissue, just as you may experience inflammation. If you experience a tennis elbow, you will feel pain a few days later.
Symptoms of tennis elbow
What tennis elbow symptoms should you be aware of to ensure prompt treatment?
The primary symptom of the tennis elbow is pain on the outside of the elbow that shoots through the forearm and to the wrist. It typically starts as irritation, which then gradually worsens over time. It will often be sore when pressing on the area, just as stretching the wrist will cause additional pain. If left untreated, the irritation and pain will worsen, as will the inability to make everyday motions that require normal hand strength.
If you do not seek some sort of medical attention, you will – over time – experience stiffer wrists, hands, and arms, which reduces the motor properties. However, there are no severe or life-threatening symptoms associated with tennis elbow or epicondylitis in general. However, it can still be quite uncomfortable and painful.
If you work in front of a screen in an office and use both a keyboard and a computer mouse daily, you will also find that the tennis elbow cause soreness and pain. It is always good to use a specially designed computer mouse and keyboard for tennis elbow if dealing with it.
Will tennis elbow justify sick leave?
Tennis elbow is not an injury that will justify time away from work. Although, during severe cases, that tennis elbow will justify sick leave. However, it requires that you talk to your doctor and manager if you experience such pain.
The difference between tennis and golf elbows
The medical term for the condition that covers tennis elbow is epicondylitis.
Specifically, epicondylitis exists in two ailments: tennis elbow and golf elbow. Tennis elbow goes by the professional name lateral epicondylitis, while golf elbow refers to as medial epicondylitis.
Both happen due to overload or congestion. Similarly, the pain in both works from the elbow through the forearm and down into the wrist.
The differences between the two lie first and foremost in what happens inside the elbow. Tennis elbow occurs due to changes in the tendon or tendon-bone attachment that control the fingers and wrists. The condition takes place on the outside of the elbow, which is why the pain is most intense here. Reversely, the golf elbow happens due to changes in the tendons or tendon attachment to the flexor muscles. As such, the pain occurs on the inside of the elbow.
Another difference between the two disorders is that the tennis elbow happens more frequently, while the golf elbow is rarer.
How does tennis elbow occur?
Tennis elbow often occurs due to bending the wrists backwards frequently and repeating rotational movements with the elbow. These actions cause an overload of the wrist tendons.
Such an overload will cause small ruptures and inflammation on the outside of the elbow. The tendon and tendon-bone attachments injuries cause one to experience pain in the elbow that shoots towards the wrist.
While most medical professionals treat tennis elbow as an inflammation in the elbow, some discuss whether it classifies as more traditional wear and tear damage. This is due to the injury typically appearing after short-term and intense overload activities connected to sports and manual or repetitive work.
Since the ailment is named after tennis, one would expect that most cases happen while playing it. While you can develop tennis elbow through especially the serve or backhand, it is primarily within work that you see the most injuries.
Who gets tennis elbow?
People who do manual labour, such as carpenters and painters, are particularly vulnerable, just as modern office workers with a lot of computer work are prone to developing it. For the latter, a traditional computer mouse can cause tennis elbow due to wrists being bent upwards to scroll and move it.
Treatment of tennis elbow
To treat tennis elbow, the first action is removing the underlying causes. To do so most the best way possible, you must change your behaviour at work or in your sport. The change needs to happen through new work positions, new work functions, and possibly new techniques in sports.
The above is about focusing on pain relief and ultimately reducing the elbow’s inflammation.
Before the above changes, one needs to avoid the activities causing the strain for some time to ensure the best possible conditions for recovery. Some activities, however, are difficult to remove altogether from your life.
Pains at work are challenging to eliminate, but one can work around them and implement new work setups. For instance, if a tennis elbow occurs due to a computer mouse, you can use ergonomically designed computer mice that require less wrist movement.
Afterwards, treatment will typically include various relaxation and strength exercises, as it is essential to focus on loosening and to strengthen the muscles around the elbow.
Blockade treatment of tennis elbow
If removing the underlying causes combined with relaxation and strength exercises does not work, blockade treatment with corticosteroids is the type of treatment that shows the best results in the short term.
The effect from this is, first and foremost, pain-relieving, just as it significantly reduces inflammation. The method will typically be through multiple injections over time. However, one will not experience more than three treatments in the same elbow within a year. The first 24 hours after starting treatment, you will experience some pain in the elbow.
If blockade treatment with corticosteroids does not work, the next step will be a minor operation where the attachment of the tendons in the elbow is loosened surgically.
An alternative treatment with challenging cases would be treatment with ESWT – also known as shock-wave treatment – just as acupuncture can be a good solution.
How to prevent tennis elbow?
As you know by now, the tennis elbow is a common condition through sports and repetitive work movements. As such, it is complicated to avoid altogether. However, there are specific steps to take to reduce the risk.
Here are some tips and tricks to reduce the strain:
Avoid using wrists and elbows more than the rest of your armsAlways warm-up before playing a sport with repetitive movementsIncrease your forearm strength through different exercisesIf you do a lot of desk work, use a computer mouse with elbow support—meaning one that limits the strain on your wrists.
Tennis elbow exercises
Various tennis elbow exercises aim to increase flexibility, ensure stretching, and build muscle around the elbow joint. They all help improve the movement around the elbow, so you can both proactively reduce the risk of tennis elbow, just as you can use it as part of your treatment. You can read more about the different exercises and approaches here.