Tennis elbow (elbow tendonitis) is the tendons’ swelling that induces pain in the elbow and arm. These tendons are groups of fibrous tissue that join the muscles of your lower arm to the bone.
Despite its misleading name, tennis elbow doesn’t always involve playing tennis. In fact, tennis elbow is the most common reason people see their physicians for elbow pain. While it can happen to people of any age, it’s most common in people aged 40+. Tennis elbow is not to be confused with a similar condition called golfer’s elbow, which hits the tendons inside the elbow.
Causes of Tennis Elbow
Tennis elbow develops over time. Repeated movements such as holding a racket for long periods during a match can hurt the muscles and stress the tendons. That constant gripping and tugging can ultimately cause microscopic tears in the tendon tissue.
Tennis elbow might result from:
- Weight lifting
This injury also affects individuals with jobs or hobbies that require repetitive arm gestures or gripping such as:
Tennis Elbow Symptoms
The symptoms of tennis elbow often include pain and swelling in the bony bulge on the outside of your elbow. This part of the elbow is where the damaged tendons connect to the bone. The pain may also spread to the upper or lower arm. Although the injury is in the elbow, you’re likely to feel some discomfort when performing things with your hands. Tennis elbow may induce the most pain when you:
- Grip an object
- Open a door or shake hands
- Lift something
- Raise your hand or straighten your wrist
How To Treat Tennis Elbow
The good news about this type of injury is that it usually heals on its own. You just need to give your arm a break and do what you can to expedite the healing. Types of helpful treatment include:
- Icing the elbow to subdue pain as well as swelling. Experts recommend doing it for 25 to 30 minutes every 3 hours for 2 to 3 days or until the pain is withdrawn.
- Utilizing an elbow strap to protect the damaged tendon from unnecessary movement and further strain.
- Taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs), such as naproxen, ibuprofen, or aspirin, to help with reducing pain and swelling. The only catch is that these drugs may induce some unwanted side effects. That said, you should only use them occasionally unless your doctor says otherwise.
- Performing a range of motion drills to improve flexibility and reduce stiffness. Your doctor may recommend that you do them a couple of times a day.
- Getting physical therapy to stimulate and stretch the muscles.
- Taking injections of steroids or painkillers to momentarily relieve some of the swelling and pain around the elbow.
In most cases, these treatments will help speed up your recovery. But if you have a critical case of tennis elbow that doesn’t go away after two to four months of conventional treatment, you may need surgery. In the medical procedure, the tendon’s injured section is usually removed and the remaining tendon repaired.
Recuperating from Tennis Elbow
Of course, everybody going through this type of injury asks themselves when they can get back to their regular activities after having tennis elbow. That depends on the severity of your case and the extent of the damage. People are different and heal at different rates.
That said, don’t rush your recovery; allow yourself to recover completely before going back out there. If you push yourself before your tennis elbow has healed, you could make the injury worse. You are ready to return to your regular activities when:
- Gripping objects is no longer painful.
- Bearing weight on your arm or elbow
- Your damaged elbow feels as mighty as your good elbow.
- Swelling has subsided
- You can flex and move the elbow without pain.
Preventing Tennis Elbow
The solution to preventing tennis elbow is to limit use. First, stop if you feel any pain during an activity. Since you may bring on tennis elbow by using faulty equipment, like a heavy golf club or tennis racket or one that has a grip that is too large, consider upgrading your equipment. Bad technique can also lead to tennis elbow. To prevent tennis elbow, you should also:
- Stretch and warm-up before any activity that will work your elbow or arm.
- Ice your elbow after a strenuous exercise.
If you’ve suffered from tennis elbow in the past or are recovering from it now, try incorporating these tips to your recovery routine to help strengthen your forearm muscles and improve your range of motion. Stimulating the muscles and staying away from repetitive movements can go a long way in preventing another injury in the future. Last but not least, give yourself time to heal, and make sure to keep your doctor in the loop.
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