Most people who suffer from tennis elbow didn’t get the condition from playing tennis. This injury of overuse can be caused by a wide range of activities, from climbing and doing handstands to typing at a computer and lifting light objects. It’s a common injury that often heals with minor treatment and rest but can occasionally develop to become a chronic condition.
What Causes Tennis Elbow?
Known to health professionals as lateral epicondylitis, tennis elbow is caused by inflammation where tendons attach to muscles responsible for raising your wrist. Activities like tennis, lifting objects or typing creates micro-tearing where the tendon attaches to the bone. When you grip with your hand or bend your wrist back, the muscles on the back of your forearm contract. These contracting muscles pull on the tendon outside of the elbow.
Repetitive activity or a sudden massive contraction can strain this tendon, leading to inflammation and pain. Since these muscles are often used for daily activities, they come under regular stress and strain, eventually becoming tight and placing a constant pull on the elbow, which makes it difficult to heal.
Common symptoms of tennis elbow include:
- Sharp pain directly on the outside of the elbow during activity
- Aching in the forearm or outside of the elbow at rest
- Pain when raising your wrist backward against resistance
- Tenderness on the outside of the elbow when you press against the bone
- Weak grip
- Everyday activities such as picking up your coffee cup, typing and using a mouse or wringing out a towel may be painful and unmanageable. Over time, these symptoms can worsen.
Why Does Tennis Elbow Get Worse?
Over time, your body’s inability to deal with the initial inflammation results in the production of different cells. Instead of inflammatory cells, the body produces fibroblasts, which cause the collagen to lose strength. After that, it becomes more fragile and can be easily injured.
Every time the collagen breaks down, more scar tissue gets formed in the tendon. Eventually, the tendon becomes thickened from extra scar tissue and no longer functions properly. At this point, pain can persist even in the absence of activity. You’ll also find it increasingly difficult to grip or lift things. This can severely undermine your quality of life, especially if tennis elbow is affecting both your arms.
Treatment and Prevention
Tennis elbow can initially be treated with rest, ice and mild pain killers with success. If pain persists after 6 to 12 weeks, you may need to see a physiotherapist who can help treat the issue with exercises to stretch and strengthen the affected muscles. Other treatments may include wearing a brace or strap to reduce stress on the area.
Your physiotherapist may also suggest different ways to do certain tasks to reduce the strain on your arm. If the pain is severe and doesn’t improve, a doctor might suggest corticosteroid injections for short term relief or platelet-rich plasma injections. In rare cases, surgery may be an option if other treatments don’t work over several months.
Physiotherapists in Melbourne
Pinnacle Health Group provides a range of health services including physiotherapy, massage, clinical Pilates, yoga, general health check-ups and more in multiple locations in Melbourne. If you’re injured or need health advice, book an appointment from one of our centrally based health clinics or join a wellness class near you.