As our glorious British Summer continues and everyone basks on the tennis court, our osteopath, Andrew Doody, calls time on an old problem.
Tennis elbow is a condition that causes pain around the outside of the elbow.
It’s clinically known as Lateral Epicondylitis and often occurs after strenuous overuse of the muscles and tendons of the forearm, near the elbow joint.
You may notice pain:
- On the outside of your upper forearm, just below the bend of your elbow.
- When lifting or bending your arm.
- When gripping small objects, such as a pen.
- When twisting your forearm, such as turning a door handle or opening a jar.
- You may also find it difficult to fully extend your arm.
The name tennis elbow is because the tennis backhand shot is a common way to develop the problem, however any strain or overuse can cause it.
Lesser known Golfer’s elbow (Medial Epiconylitis) is a similar issue but on the other side of the elbow.
These conditions are easy to get but can hang around for weeks and months if left untreated. This is largely due to the fact that lots of the muscles in the hand and forearm attach to those two spots on either side of the elbow. This means that once the area is inflamed, most everything you do with the hand can re-aggravate it, from drinking a cup of tea (or Pimms) to opening a door (or raising a trophy).
Once diagnosed, treatment involves firstly reducing the inflammation with rest, cold compresses and anti-inflammatories, followed by massage and careful mobilisation to help relieve pain and stiffness and restore the range of movement. Specific supports can also be quite beneficial at this time.
Preventing tennis elbow is tough but here are a few pointers:
- If you have tennis elbow, stop doing the activity that is causing pain, or find an alternative way of doing it that does not place stress on your tendons.
- Avoid using your wrist and elbow more than the rest of your arm. Spread the load to the larger muscles of your shoulder and upper arm.
- If you play a sport that involves repetitive movements, such as tennis or squash, getting some coaching advice to help improve your technique may help you avoid getting tennis elbow.
- Before playing a sport that involves repetitive arm movements, warm up properly and gently stretch your arm muscles to help avoid injury.
- Use lightweight tools or racquets and enlarge their grip size to help you avoid putting excess strain on your tendons.
- Wear a tennis elbow support when you are using your arm, and take it off while you are resting or sleeping to help prevent further damage to your tendons. Ask your osteopath for advice about the best type of brace or splint to use.
- Lastly, increasing the strength of your forearm muscles can help prevent tennis elbow. Your osteopath can advise you about exercises to build up your forearm muscles.