Joint Pain

Identifying the Ouch in Tennis Elbow

You don’t have to be Andre Agassi or Maria Sharapova to end up with tennis elbow. In fact, you might end up with the painful condition, which is caused by repetitive stress of the forearm, arm, and hand muscles that penetrate the elbow, even if you’ve never swung a tennis racket.

So before you shrug off that dull, chronic ache in the back of your forearm, consider these causes, symptoms, and treatment options for tennis elbow. Six facts identifying the ouch in tennis elbow are…

1. What is Tennis Elbow?

Tennis elbow is a medical condition that is known clinically as lateral epicondylitis. However, don’t mistake the condition as one that only targets tennis players. Tennis elbow can strike anyone who overuses the tendons in the forearm (close to the elbow), which explains the placement of pain.

Repetitive stress of the forearm tendons will often cause damage (or tiny tears) in the forearm tendons as well as chronic inflammation. The pain can become so bad that it’s painful to bend the wrist or grasp objects in your hand.

2. Why is Lateral Epicondylitis Called Tennis Elbow?

As mentioned, you don’t have to play the sport of tennis, or even have ever swung a tennis racket, in order to develop tennis elbow. Doctors at WebMD specify that lateral epicondylitis can result from any type of repetitive stress of the wrist extensors.

For instance, tennis players often overwork the tendons in the wrist and forearm when they swing a racket. However, working duties (i.e., painting, cooking, or typing at a computer) or recreational activities (i.e., texting) can also cause a painful case of tennis elbow to develop.

3. Primary Tennis Elbow Symptoms

According to New York-based physical therapist Bridget Dungan, the majority of tennis elbow patients seek a diagnosis once pain becomes unbearable in the bony prominence (known as the lateral epicondyle) on the outer edge of the elbow.

This pain actually strikes the tendons attached to the lateral epicondyle, but patients will complain of a dull ache or chronic burning feeling in the elbow. Obviously, weight-bearing movement will often exacerbate the pain and decrease your grip strength (i.e., opening jars or door knobs).

4. Relieving Tennis Elbow Pain

Stretching the painfully inflamed areas will often help lessen the achy, burning sensations associated with tennis elbow. Physical therapists often recommend stretching exercises that target both the wrist flexors and extensors.

You can safely stretch the wrist extensors, and relieve some pain, by straightening the arm fully out in front of you with your palm facing down. Bend your hand at the wrist and use the opposite arm to push the back of your hand downwards (until you feel a good stretch in the top of the forearm). To stretch your wrist flexors, turn your straight arm palm up and push your hand backwards, bending at the wrist and stretching the bottom of the forearm. Hold both stretches for 10-seconds and repeat on the opposite arm.

5. Encourage Tendon Healing

Many doctors and physical therapists will also recommend giving yourself an ice massage to treat the pain and decrease the inflammation associated with tennis elbow. The cooling sensation of laying an ice pack on the area will constrict blood flow.

However, an ice massage, applied in circular motions using ice in a soft towel or frozen in a paper cup, will diminish inflammation, dull pain, and encourage circulation of blood while alternately constricting and dilating blood vessels, triggering a rush of fresh blood to the area and promoting tendon healing.

6. Decrease Repetitive Stress

To encourage healing, a routine of stretching, massage to increase blood flow, and limiting repetitive stress to the inflamed and damaged area is important for healing. To greatly decrease continued stress and prevent further damage to tendons, assistive work and athletic devices can be employed.

For instance, wearing a doctor prescribed counterforce brace, which is an elastic band that encircles the forearm tightly below the injured tendon can reduce pain and further injury. Your physical therapist may also ask you to avoid movements that cause you pain, such as gripping objects or swinging the arm.

Avatar

Dr. Gerald Morris

Gerald Morris, MD is a physician (Family Medicine/Internal Medicine) with over 20 years expertise in the medical arena. Dr. Morris has spent time as a clinician, clinical research coordinator/manager, medical writer, and instructor. He is a proponent of patient education as a tool in the diagnosis and treatment of acute and chronic medical conditions. Hence, his contribution to articles on Activebeat.

X