If you have developed pain on the outside of your elbow that seems to get worse with gripping activities, heavy lifting, pouring a heavy jug or playing sport, you may be suffering from “tennis elbow”. This widely heard of, but poorly understood, condition is in no way exclusively related to tennis. It can be brought on by it, but certainly can be caused by a number of other activities and sports. In the sports medicine world it has many names, including lateral epicondylagia and lateral extensor tendinopathy.
So what causes it? It can come on subsequent to significant and traumatic injury, but typically it is caused by repetitive stress to the muscle tendon that inserts on the bony point of the outside of your elbow. These muscles make your wrist bend backwards and assist with gripping and twisting. So naturally, activities that involve high repetitions of those movements can aggravate this condition. Typing, hammering, using a screwdriver, lifting weights and painting are just a few activities that can bring on this condition.
Here are five tips on managing a tennis elbow.
1. See someone early
I am a big fan of the wait-and-see approach most of the time. Most injuries resolve themselves and don’t require any professional management. But this is a condition that is best managed when caught early, before it has developed into a problem where your tendon actually changes its fibres and becomes thickened and very painful. Some simple advice and easy management options can turn this one around quickly, so don’t delay if you have pain in this region.
2. Avoid gripping activities with palm facing down or a tight fist
Most of us would pick up a heavy shopping bag with our palms facing downwards, or into our bodies. This will most likely aggravate your painful elbow. Try facing the palm up or out instead to load the opposite muscle group. When you must grip objects, like weights at the gym for example, try to not only change the direction of your grip but the tightness as well, by wrapping something around the weights so you can make a wider fist.
3. Try strapping it or wearing a brace
A study showed that the application of tape to the affected arm not only reduced pain, but also improved grip and wrist extension strength. While it won’t treat the underlying condition as such, it can be a fantastic addition to your rehab plan so you can get on with work, sport and your rehab programme.
4. Ice it
At least in the initial phase, icing a painful elbow may help. Though it is not strictly an inflammatory condition, it can prevent pain and pathology caused by some of the small capillaries that develop in the area. As it is a non-invasive, affordable and easy therapy to apply, it is often encouraged as there are little or no side-effects – provided an adequate barrier between the ice and your skin is used to prevent ice-burn.
5. Strengthen it
These types of injuries typically occur when a muscle is placed under loads that it cannot sustain. In other words, it is too weak for the demands you are placing on it. Strengthening the muscle is not just important for returning back to the aggravating activity, but is actually used to reverse the pathological process that occurs in the tendon. A physio will provide you with exercises to help restore normal function and reduce pain in your elbow.
Sometimes you will need to see a specialist to discuss injection therapy, but most will not want to explore this next step with you until you have tried strengthening rehabilitation first. Furthermore, most injection therapies work well alongside rehab rather than instead of them. If you are dealing with a painful elbow, come and see one of the team at HealthZone Physio to establish a management plan.
Contact HealthZone Physiotherapy today on: (09) 477 2098