Your Guide to Treating Tennis Elbow: Diagnosis & Prevention

Your Guide to Treating Tennis Elbow: Diagnosis & Prevention

Tennis elbow is a condition that can affect anyone, causing moderate to intense pain in and around your forearm. Luckily, tennis elbow is treatable, and you don't need to be a medical expert to tackle it. 

You can relieve the pain and return to your routine with simple at-home remedies, such as foam rolling with an arm massager or ice therapy. This guide provides a comprehensive look into what causes tennis elbow, how to identify it, and your available treatment options.

What Is Tennis Elbow?

Tennis elbow, or lateral epicondylitis, is a medical condition characterized by inflammation of the tendons connecting the forearm muscles to the outer part of the elbow. An overuse injury typically affects between 1 and 3 percent of the population.

One of the most prevalent symptoms of tennis elbow is recurring pain on the outside of your upper forearm just below the edge of your elbow. You might feel this discomfort further down your arm, toward your wrist. If your elbow pain is severe enough, it could prevent you from lifting objects.

It's more common to develop a tennis elbow in your dominant arm. Still, it's not uncommon to develop the condition in your nondominant arm or even both arms simultaneously.

What Causes Tennis Elbow?

Tennis elbow is not exclusive to tennis players. The primary culprit behind this condition is repetitive activity that strains your tendons. Specific jobs, sports, and routines can all contribute to the condition. Any activity requiring repetitive use of your forearm muscle or repetitive extension of your wrist and hand is a potential risk factor.

Diagnosing Tennis Elbow

When a burning elbow pain starts creeping up your arm during everyday activities, it's a signal that something's off. Please schedule an appointment with your doctor right away to have them assess your condition.

Medical Examination

A physician will consider your lifestyle and daily activities, paying particular attention to any activities involving a repetitive forearm motion. The physician may ask you to perform the following simple test: Place your hands on a chair back with downward-facing palms and straight elbows. Then, try to lift the chair. If performing this causes pain on the outside of your elbow, it indicates you likely have tennis elbow.

Your doctor may also ask about the precise location of your pain and its severity and frequency. All of this information is vital in correctly diagnosing your condition as tennis elbow and ruling out other conditions like arthritis or an elbow joint injury.

Imaging Tests

In some situations, the physician may order imaging tests, such as X-rays, computed tomography (CT) scans, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans. These scans help identify damage to your forearm's tendons, muscles, or bones. Electromyography (EMG) tests can check for any issues related to nerve compression.

Treating Tennis Elbow

Depending on your diagnosis and doctor's recommendations, self-care measures, professional help, or a combination of both might be available as treatment methods.

Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation

Practicing RICE (rest, ice, compression, and elevation) might be helpful. While this method can't instantly cure tennis elbow, it can provide short-term relief by reducing inflammation and pain.

  • Rest: Try to avoid activities that strain your tendons.
  • Ice: Apply an ice pack on your elbow area for 15 minutes every two to three hours.
  • Compression: Wrist and forearm support can help provide rest to your forearm and limit its use, aiding your recovery.
  • Elevation: Lift the affected arm above your heart level whenever possible to reduce swelling.

Foam Rolling

Foam rolling, a method for self-myofascial release, can be an effective treatment for tennis elbow. Try using this self-massage technique to soothe your tight, inflamed areas, known as "trigger points." The benefits of foam rolling include temporary pain relief, improved flexibility, and a faster overall recovery.

Physical Therapy

Engaging in physical therapy can also significantly help you beat tennis elbow. The beauty of physical therapy is that it enables you to heal and build muscle strength to avoid further injuries. Specific techniques include Mulligan mobilization, taping, foam rolling, and exercises designed to stretch and strengthen your forearm muscles and tendons.

Injection Therapies

Various injection therapies are available to reduce inflammation and promote healing. These include corticosteroids, platelet-rich plasma (PRP), botulinum toxin (Botox), needle fenestration, and ultrasonic tenotomy. Each method has its benefits depending on the severity and specifics of your condition.

Braces & Supports

Counterforce braces can limit flexion and extension, relieve some of the pressure on tendons and joints, and prevent further injuries.

Medications

In more severe cases, medications such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen could make a big difference. However, it is always best to use medicines under professional supervision. Steroid injections, PRP (platelet-rich plasma therapy), extracorporeal shock wave therapy, and dry needling are also treatments for tennis elbow.

Surgical Options

Most cases of tennis elbow improve with non-surgical treatments within a few months. However, a severe case might require more invasive methods. Surgery is usually only an option after non-surgical treatments have failed over several months. Procedures include open or arthroscopic surgery to remove damaged tissue and reattach healthy tendons.

How to Prevent Tennis Elbow

Understanding the risks, being proactive, and adopting preventative measures can go a long way in protecting yourself from this condition.

Use Proper Technique

Proper techniques are crucial, whether practicing a sport or performing a job. Meet with a physical therapist who can show you the correct methods and determine when your elbow, forearm, and wrist are solid and ready to handle the same action again.

Perform Strengthening Exercises

Incorporating therapeutic exercises into your daily routine can help you avoid the risk of tennis elbow. A physical therapist can guide you on strengthening your muscles and increasing your flexibility to prevent future injury.

Modify Your Equipment 

The tool you use for your task plays a significant role, too. For example, adjusting the tension of the strings on your racket or implementing other changes as suggested by a sports medicine professional could reduce your risk of tennis elbow. Consider using a forearm band one to two inches below your elbow to relieve tension on your tendons.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are some preventative measures for tennis elbow? 

There are three main prevention strategies for tennis elbow:

  • Using the correct playing techniques
  • Incorporating strengthening exercises into your wellness routine
  • Adjusting your tennis equipment to your individual physical needs

What is the significance of adjusting your equipment for tennis elbow? 

Adjusting your racket can significantly lower your risk of developing tennis elbow. Correctly fitted and adjusted equipment can reduce the strain and pressure on your elbow, ultimately helping with injury prevention.

Can tennis elbow heal by itself? 

Tennis elbow can heal independently if you care for your condition appropriately and address any discomfort immediately.

Who can guide you in preventing tennis elbow? 

Physical therapists can guide you in practicing proper techniques, recommend strengthening exercises, and assist with equipment modifications, all of which can help you prevent tennis elbow.

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