What is Tennis Elbow?
Tennis elbow is a common condition and is due to irritation and inflammation of the wrist extensor tendons, which attach at the outer aspect of the elbow. Symptoms include tenderness on the outer aspect of the elbow with pain sometimes travelling towards the wrist, stiffness in the morning or after rest until it is ‘warmed up’, and worsening of symptoms with repetitive use of the wrist and forearm. You may also notice some redness and thickening around the outer aspect of the elbow.
What causes Tennis Elbow?
Tennis elbow primarily occurs when the wrist extensor tendons are repetitively overused, causing an overload on the tendons. This commonly results from activities involving repetitive use of the arm including computer/keyboard use, lifting, gripping and rotational movements such as using a screwdriver, as well as racquet sports. It could also develop as a result of a muscle imbalance and stiffness elsewhere in the body, for example a weakness in the rotator cuff muscles of the shoulder could lead to overcompensating with the elbow, therefore leading to overuse and increased strain.
What can I do?
Most cases of tennis elbow will resolve quickly without the need for treatment, however, your attitude and the actions you take are the most important factors in preventing long-term problems. The most effective way to manage symptoms of tennis elbow are to
- Identify what factors may be contributing to your pain (eg slumped postures, repetitive use of the arm at home or work, smoking and stress) and modifying your activity to try to minimise these factors.
- Talk to your GP or pharmacist about what pain relief or anti-inflammatory medication may be right for you. If your pain is controlled, you will be able to maintain more movement, while anti-inflammatory medication such as ibuprofen would help to reduce inflammation.
- Apply an ice pack (wrapped in a towel) to reduce pain and inflammation.
- Consider the use of a tennis elbow clasp (often sold at pharmacies).
When should I seek further help?
If symptoms are worsening after 1 week of trying the above strategies, contact your GP surgery for further assistance. They may refer you to a physiotherapist who can
- Assess your symptoms,
- Help you understand your condition
- Help identify the factors that may be have caused or be aggravating your symptoms and providing advice on how to minimise these,
- Develop symptom management strategies so you always feel in control
- Provide an individualised exercise program to improve stretch then re-strengthen the affected muscles.
- Provide manual therapies to improve postural awareness and minimise muscular tension in surrounding muscles.
- Determine whether onward referral may be appropriate, for example for a corticosteroid injection.
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