Tennis elbow is one of the most well known tennis injuries, yet it’s name is deceiving. This common elbow problem probably affects as many non-tennis players as it does tennis players.
What is tennis elbow?
Tennis elbow is caused by a strain to tendons in the forearm. The tendons become inflamed where they join the bony part on the outside of your elbow joint. Any activity that involves gripping and twisting of the forearm can cause this type of strain – most cases aren’t actually related to tennis or any kind of exercise. Golfer’s elbow is a similar condition that affects the inside of the elbow joint near the funny bone.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms vary – you may have mild discomfort when you move your arm, or the pain may be bad enough to disturb your sleep. The outside of your elbow will feel tender to the touch and there may be swelling. You may also have pain further down your forearm. Repetitive movements of the wrist will make the pain worse, especially if combined with a weight, for example if you’re lifting boxes.
What can be done to help?
Simple self-help treatments can often be enough to clear up a mild case of tennis elbow. Most cases will ease within about 2 weeks. The first thing you can do to help is to identify and adapt any movements that may be causing your symptoms. So, if you feel your pain when you do something, try and find a different way of doing it. For example, lift objects with your palms facing upwards and elbows bent.
Painkillers such as paracetamol and ibuprofen may help. It’s important that you take them regularly and at the recommended dose to help you control the pain and allow you to continue exercising. Don’t wait until your pain is severe before taking painkillers. You can also rub anti-in ammatory cream directly onto the painful area.
You shouldn’t take ibuprofen or aspirin if you’re pregnant or have asthma, indigestion or an ulcer until you’ve spoken to your doctor or pharmacist. Medication can have side-effects so you should read the label carefully and check with your pharmacist if you have any queries. Always seek medical advice if needed before taking medication.
If your elbow pain is affecting your activity and is persisting, you would benefit from seeing a physiotherapist. Here at goPhysio, we can help you to manage pain and improve your strength and flexibility. Importantly, we will help you identify what exactly has caused the problem and find ways to modify what you do to prevent it happening again. Tennis elbow is an overuse injury, so if you don’t address the root of the problem, it can become a long term issue.
We can use a variety of treatments – including acupuncture, ultrasound, hands on techniques and tailored exercises. We will help you understand your problem and get you back doing what you love to do. We may recommend an epicondylitis clasp, which can help reduce the strain on your elbow if you need to make repetitive hand and elbow movements, for example while you’re working. This can ease the discomfort in your forearm.
For long standing, persistent tennis elbow, or tennis elbow that has failed to respond to other treatments, Shockwave Therapy can be highly effective. We now offer this service at goPhysio – read more about it here.
If your pain persists and doesn’t respond to treatment, your physio may suggest a steroid injection into the tender area. One injection is probably all you’ll need, though you may still need to rest your elbow for 2–3 weeks afterwards. There’s a slight possibility that the pain will become worse for a few hours after the injection, occasionally lasting for up to 48 hours. Your physio can help with referring you on for a steroid injection if they think you would benefit from this and also discuss the pros and cons with you.
Here are some simple exercises that can help if you’re suffering with tennis elbow.