You don’t have to be a Grand Slam champion or spend your free time on the tennis court to develop tennis elbow; however, as the name implies, the chances of developing tennis elbow do increase if you play a sport that involves a racquet. So what then causes tennis elbow, and is there a way to prevent this condition from sidelining you from your favorite sport?
Causes of a Tennis Elbow
Tennis elbow – lateral epicondylitis – occurs when the muscles and tendons around your elbow begin to tear. The process is not instantaneous, but rather, takes place over time. As such, tennis elbow is classified as a repetitive strain injury (RSI) that is results from the consistent, repetitive force of constant exertion, mechanical compressions, vibrations and awkward or forced positions used throughout play.
Symptoms of Tennis Elbow
Tennis elbow creates a slow-growing pain that is triggered while lifting objects – some as light as a spoon. Pressure applied to the outside elbow can cause great discomfort, as can simple motions like shaking hands or turning a doorknob. Discomfort is also felt when holding your wrist stiffly or moving it in a forceful manner. As the condition worsens, so does the pain and inability to perform increasingly more simple tasks, eventually resulting in the inability to move the arm at all.
Not just a Tennis Injury
Despite its name, tennis elbow is not solely caused by playing tennis or other racquet sports. Because the affected area usually is the extensor carpi radialis brevis – the muscles in the forearm – tennis elbow is common in any activity that tends to stress the arm with repeated backhand and forearm strokes. That means doctors treat tennis elbow in participants of other sports with similar motions as tennis, as well as those in professions like plumbing, painting, carpentry, assembly line work, and even those who use their computer mouse all day.
Diagnosing Tennis Elbow
Complaining about any of the above listed symptoms – especially if you enjoy racquet sports or have an occupation that requires repetitive tasks that affect the elbow – may indicate you do in fact have tennis elbow. Only your orthopedist can know for sure, and he will do this most likely by ordering an X-ray of the area or, because a tendon is affected, recommending a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scan.
Treating Tennis Elbow
If you have been diagnosed with tennis elbow, your orthopedist will likely first recommend rest and activity restriction; he also may refer you to a physical therapist and prescribe anti-inflammatory medications to reduce the inflammation the causes pain and stiffness. Wrist splints and forearm bands are highly effective at promoting healing. Likewise, he may administer a corticosteroid medication or injection. On very rare occasions – and only when the more conservative treatments have proven ineffective – your orthopedist may recommend arthroscopic surgery followed by physical or occupational therapy.
Caring for Your Bones and Joints
If you believe you have tennis elbow, or any other orthopedic concern, and live in North Dakota, there is a place dedicated to providing the best care for your orthopedic needs. At The Bone and Joint Center, our providers are equipped with the expertise to treat any number of orthopedic conditions – to include those that affect the shoulder and elbow. With locations throughout North Dakota, we are convenient to you and your family. Call us today at (701) 530-8650, or request an appointment online and get back into your favorite game.