OMG! I have tennis elbow…and I don’t even play tennis!

31st Aug, 2020

Pain on the outside of your elbow? Been told that that you have tennis elbow and you don’t even play tennis?

Fret not! Help is on the way! Tennis elbow gets its name from repeated backhand strokes used by tennis players, resulting in frequent and excessive strain on the outer forearm muscle (known as the extensor carpi radialis brevis muscle). However, this condition is not specific to tennis players only. Interestingly, it is more often seen in non-tennis players than in tennis players — read on to find out more!

What is tennis elbow?

Also known as lateral epicondylalgia, tennis elbow is a painful condition involving the tendon on the outer part of the elbow. You will likely experience some pain on the outer side of your elbow when you grip too tightly on a kettle, hold groceries or wring your towel.

Anatomy of the Lateral Elbow

Some people might complain of the onset of pain that develops 6 weeks after starting a new activity i.e. golf, tennis or after moving house. You might even experience pain on the outside of your elbow when you clean the table! Funny to see how our body responds when placed under different stresses!

Why does tennis elbow happen?

It is usually due to repetitive gripping and/or a sudden increase in activity. However, traumatic events can also lead to this painful condition. You may have begun a new sport i.e. golf or doing spring cleaning because of the circuit breaker etc. Before you know it, you get this outer elbow pain — for simply doing something so…innocent! Simply put, the tendon on the outside of our elbow is being loaded beyond what it’s usually able to take. Hence, it makes you aware of it to prevent you from loading the tendon further.

The cause of tennis elbow is not completely understood. And here is a bit of science for the geek in you. It is commonly associated with repetitive microtrauma due to excessive gripping or wrist movement. It is assumed that repetitive stretching results in multiple microtears of the tendo, potentially causing an irreversible denaturation of matrix proteins and proliferation of fibrous tissue and hence, pain.

Can Physiotherapy help with my elbow pain?

Our Physiotherapist will take a thorough assessment of what has happened to ascertain that you are truly experiencing tennis elbow, or more accurately, lateral epicondylalgia.

Your grip, arm and shoulder strength will be assessed to get a baseline value of what you’re able to do (or not!). Specific exercise programs will be prescribed to address any deficits found.

Electrophysical modalities, manual therapy or taping may be prescribed accordingly, based on evidence-based clinical judgement. Advice regarding ergonomics or movement pattern changes may be needed to reduce further strain on your tendon. If the pain doesn’t resolve, your Physiotherapist might also have to assess other areas i.e. your neck, to address any potential contributions.

Some examples of exercises for tennis elbow would include:

  1. Grip strengthening
  2. Wrist extensor strengthening
  3. Shoulder stabilisation exercises

More recently, eccentric exercise has gradually become a first-line conservative treatment for lateral epicondylalgia.

Here are some exercises for your elbow pain:

Wrist Extension

Grip strengthening

Single arm plank

BOS ball plank

DISCLAIMER: These exercises should not replace the need for a consultation with a Physiotherapist especially if your condition doesn’t improve with these exercises. Your Physiotherapist will choose exercises that suit your specific needs.

Book now or give us a call to schedule an appointment to see our Physiotherapist who will be able to partner you to recovery as we address your lateral elbow pain!

Ref:

Bisset, L. M., & Vicenzino, B. (2015). Physiotherapy management of lateral epicondylalgia. Journal of physiotherapy, 61(4), 174-181.

Flatt, A. E. (2008, October). Tennis elbow. In Baylor University Medical Center Proceedings (Vol. 21, No. 4, pp. 400-402). Taylor & Francis.

Keijsers, R., de Vos, R. J., Kuijer, P. P. F., van den Bekerom, M. P., van der Woude, H. J., & Eygendaal, D. (2019). Tennis elbow. Shoulder & elbow, 11(5), 384-392.

Ma, K. L., & Wang, H. Q. (2020). Management of Lateral Epicondylitis: A Narrative Literature Review. Pain Research and Management, 2020.
The F.A.S.T. Cure for Tennis Elbow (Lateral Epicondylitis): East Tennessee Orthopedics & Sports. East Tennessee Orthopedics & Sports. (2016, August 4). https://www.knoxorthopedic.com/f-s-t-cure-tennis-elbow-lateral-epicondylitis/.

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