It’s a question we hear a lot in physio! The term ‘tennis elbow’ is the commonly used (and much easier to pronounce) name to describe what’s actually known in the medical world as ‘lateral epicondylalgia’ or ‘lateral epicondylitis‘, meaning ‘pain on the outside of the elbow’.
Tennis elbow is a common type of elbow pain which occurs when the tendon of our wrist extensors muscles (the muscles that lift our wrist up) becomes inflamed and irritated where they insert on the outside of the elbow. Because these wrist extensor muscles are worked extra hard in tennis which requires both a strong grip and explosive flicks of the wrist for back hand shots, these two names became synonymous.
However tennis elbow can occur in any one who does a lot of repetitive wrist extension or gripping activities and can be classified as a repetitive strain injury (RSI). In fact, it probably affects more non-tennis player’s than tennis players! Outside of the tennis world we see it a lot in office workers who spend long periods of time typing or who have a poor ergonomic set up, who come to see us with pain in their elbow.
In the early stages, tennis elbow can be treated effectively with rest, ice, anti-inflammatories and modification of activities to change the way you lift, grip or type. For example, lifting an object using your hand palm-up rather than palm down uses different muscle groups so affords the wrist extensors some rest.
Using ergonomic keyboards and mouse set ups (e.g. vertical mouse) can also reduce the strain on these muscles.
Unfortunately, this condition can be persistent if you don’t change the aggravating activities or have left it and it has become a longer term issue. If the above simple strategies aren’t working for you, you’ve been experiencing problems for some time or the pain is limiting you doing what you want or need to do everyday, come and seek our help. We’ll be able to assess you in detail and use a combination of manual therapy, ultrasound, acupuncture and strength and flexibility exercises to speed up your recovery. We’ll also ask about your day to day activities you struggle with and offer helpful solutions to modify these, or use of an Epi-clasp strap to offload the area if necessary. Remember the sooner you seek help the quicker and easier it is to get your pain better, so don’t’ let it linger on!