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Tennis Elbow

FROM THE DESK OF DR. HARJEET SINGH - Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation.

My elbow is killing me today! I often hear this from my patients and friends alike.

Most of them are weekend warriors and active at racquet sports. But it is not only them who complain, a fair share are non-sporting and a good number are homemakers.

Pain over the outer part of the elbow has been called several things. Most people call any pain in the region of the outer elbow Tennis Elbow. This is dangerous as not every painful condition over the outer part of the elbow is – Details of these other conditions at some other time.

Coming back to Tennis Elbow - Mind you, it doesn’t only happen in tennis players! The medical terminology is Lateral Epicondylitis and it is the most common of elbow injuries, typically occurring between the ages of 40 – 60 and affecting up to 3 percent of the population.

What is the Pathological Process?

Tennis elbow occurs when there is damage to the muscle and its tendon over the outer aspect of the elbow. The muscles, which run over the back of the forearm, are mainly attached to the outer part of the elbow. Theses muscles help to extend the wrist and fingers (movements which cause you to curl your wrists upwards and straighten your fingers)

Small tears (micro tears) form in the tendons and muscles, which control the movement of the forearm. These tears happen because the tendons do not stretch. Repeated stress strains the tendon causing it to fray in a similar way that a rope frays. This then causes a restriction of movement, inflammation and pain. As this area is prone to heal poorly with high chance of repeated injury, these micro tears eventually lead to the formation of scar tissue and calcium deposits. This tissue is of poor quality and is prone to further tearing, thus causing persistent pain and dysfunction.

What Causes Tennis Elbow?


The most common cause of tennis elbow is repeated injury due to over use. Any action which places a repetitive and prolonged strain on the forearm muscles, coupled with inadequate rest, will tend to strain and overwork those muscles. Poor technique in sports increases strain on the involved muscles and will contribute to the condition, such as using ill-fitted equipment, like tennis racquets, golf clubs, work tools, etc. It is important to remember that these injuries don’t only occur in those involved in sports. Movements that predisposed to tennis elbow are:

  • Rotation of the elbow with a bent wrist such as using a screwdriver.
  • Gripping something strongly while rotating the wrist.
  • Hitting movements such as usage of a hammer.
  • Throwing movement that is not done smoothly (jerky).

There are also many other causes, like a direct injury - a bump or fall onto the elbow. Understand that poor levels of general fitness and conditioning will also contribute to the development of this condition

Signs and Symptoms


Pain is the most common and obvious symptom associated with tennis elbow. Pain is most often experienced on the outside of the upper forearm, but can also be experienced anywhere from the elbow joint to the wrist. Weakness, stiffness and a general restriction of movement are also quite common in sufferers of tennis elbow. Even tingling and numbness can be experienced.

Preventing Tennis Elbow.

 

WARM UP: Thorough and correct warm up will help to prepare the muscles and tendons for any activity to come. Without a proper warm up the muscles and tendons will be tight and stiff. There will be limited blood flow to the forearm area, which will result in a lack of oxygen and nutrients for the muscles. This is a sure-fire recipe for a muscle or tendon injury.

STRETCHING: Flexible muscles and tendons are extremely important in the prevention of most strain or sprain injuries. Proper flexibility levels allow muscles to move and perform without being over stretched.  Tight and stiff muscle on the other hand, may be pushed beyond their natural range of movement. This predisposes to injury.

STRENGTHENING:  Strengthening and conditioning the muscles of the forearm and wrist will also help to prevent tennis elbow.

Stretches for Prevention of Lateral Epicondylitis (Tennis Elbow) – These are to be done with controlled movements.  The exercises should not be done if it brings about pain or causes more pain.

  • Lift your arms to about shoulder height and place your hands together in front of your chest, keeping your fingers together. Your fingers should be just under your chin. Lower your hands towards your waist and stop when you feel a mild stretch. Hold for 20 seconds and repeat 4 times.
  • Extend your arm out in front of you, palm down, and push your hand towards you with the other hand until you feel a stretch. Hold for 20 seconds.
  • Extend your arm out in front of you, palm up, and push your hand towards you with the other hand until you feel a stretch. Hold for 20 seconds.
  • Practice squeezing a tennis ball, holding the ball for a few seconds before releasing. Do this twice a day.
  • Place a rubber band around all of your fingers, including thumb, and practice opening your fingers against the rubber band. Do this twice a day.

Treating Tennis Elbow.


The occurrence of acute pain should bring about cessation of the initiating activity.

It is advisable to obtain a consult from an Orthopaedic Surgeon to obtain diagnosis. Not every painful episode over the lateral (outer aspect) of the elbow is due to tennis elbow.

The RICE protocol should be carried out for the first 24-48 hours. This involves R – Rest; I – Ice; C – Compression; E – Elevation.  Usage of ice treatment should be done properly for best benefit (Use of Cold and Heat in Injury)

The next phase of treatment (after the first 48 to 72 hours) involves a number of physiotherapy techniques. This begins with passive methods such as heat and ultrasound therapy and thereafter moves on to the preventive and rehabilitative phase once the pain control is good.

The ultimate aim of this phase is to regain and improve the strength, power, endurance and flexibility of the muscles and tendons that have been compromised.

 

 

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