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What is tennis elbow?
The majority of people, when hearing the diagnosis ‘tennis elbow” will immediately think of a sport-related injury, which only occurs while playing tennis. However, in contrast to the name, tennis players are not the only ones affected by this disease.
Anyone who is using their elbow excessively can develop a tennis elbow, therefore several other sports and activities can put someone at risk. Active people among the younger and middle age groups often face the problem, especially when carrying out repetitive, heavy physical work.
Why does it hurt?
Tennis elbow, or lateral epicondylitis, is a painful condition of one’s elbow caused mostly by overuse. The pain is caused by the inflammation of the tendons that join the forearm muscles on the outside of the elbow – called extensors tendons. These muscles are the ones responsible for straightening and pulling back the wrist and the fingers. Overuse of these muscles will weaken them, as well as cause gradual wear and microscopic tears in the muscles over time; this is when inflammation happens.
- The most common symptoms of tennis elbow are pain and tenderness on the outside outer bony part of the elbow. I may develop gradually and you might not be able to relate it to any specific activity or injury.
- The pain will worsen when grasping or holding an object in your hand. Or even just when shaking someone's hand firmly.
- Another symptom is pain when lifting or bending your arm.
- You will also experience stiffness when fully extending your arm and in the forearm.
An episode of tennis elbow could last between six months and two years. However, with the appropriate exercises and treatments the majority of people can make a full recovery within as little as 10-12 months.
The most important thing to follow, to make a full recovery, is to rest the arching arm and to avoid the activities that can make the pain worse. Alternatively, you can try to modify the way you perform your daily manual tasks, so you would not place strain on your arm. For example, lift objects with your palm facing up, not down, as this will put less strain on your damaged muscles and take regular breaks to rest your elbow.
Painkillers may also relive your from the pain. Non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are often recommended for muscular-skeletal conditions, such as tennis elbow. Some NSAIDs that you can use for tennis elbow are available over the counter without a prescription. While others are only available on prescription. Always talk to your GP and/or pharmacist who will be able to recommend the most suitable NSAID for your injury.
Your GP may refer you to a physiotherapist instead of, or next to the NSAID. Your physiotherapists, who all are well-educated healthcare professionals, will most likely use manual therapy techniques, such as massage and manipulation, to relieve pain and stiffness, as well as to restore movement to the injured muscles and arm. Your physiotherapist will also show you exercises, to keep your arm mobile and strengthen your forearm muscles.
Surgery is usually the very last resort, but will be definitely successful in relieving pain in the majority of people. The surgery involves a small incision over the elbow, and aims to repair or remove the damaged part of your tendon. As with any surgery, there are numerous risks, which you should talk about with your doctor first.