Tennis elbow is a painful condition caused by the overuse of the muscles in the arm, forearm, and hand, which results in elbow pain. It specifically involves the region where the muscles and tendons of the forearm are attached to the bony protuberance outside the elbow, called lateral epicondyle (thus the term “lateral epicondylitis” used by doctors to refer to tennis elbow). The pain occurs when the tendons become inflamed and is often accompanied by tenderness of the affected area.
Not surprisingly, tennis elbow affects between 1 and 3 people in every 100, particularly those in the 30-60 age group. Depending on the severity of the condition and the outcome of the treatment, the symptoms can persist anywhere from six weeks to two years. Tennis elbow usually develops in the arm that’s used the most: left-handed people are more likely to get it in their left elbow, but it can also occur in the other arm or in both at the same time.
Below are some of the most frequently asked questions about this frequent condition:
I Am Not a Tennis Player. Why Do I Have This?
The term “tennis elbow” indeed came into use because it used to be a significant problem for tennis players, but most cases of tennis elbow are reported in people who don’t play the sport. Statistics show that up to 30 percent of repetitive task workers suffer from this condition; people who work as plumbers, painters, butchers, plasterers, and carpenters are most exposed to the type of repetitive motion that leads to tennis elbow. Office workers, who constantly perform activities that involve gripping and twisting their wrist, are highly exposed, too.
What Are the Most Common Causes of Tennis Elbow?
Overuse is by far the most common cause of tennis elbow. As the muscles that help stabilize the wrist when the arm is straight become damaged, tears start to form in the tendon connecting to the lateral epicondyle, leading to pain and inflammation. Activities that require constant use of the forearm muscle, such as typing, swimming, gardening, lifting weights, bricklaying, and others, are also a leading cause of this condition. Tennis elbow can also occur for visible reason, without any recognized repetitive injury leading to muscle damage.
Are Cortisone Injections an Easy Fix?
Due to their strong anti-inflammatory properties, cortisone injections have been the first line of treatment for tennis elbow for a very long time, providing instant relief for most patients (80% success rate). It was soon discovered, however, that the relief was short-lived, with several clinical trials reporting that the effect would not only wear off completely in 6-8 weeks, but also that patients were feeling much worse than if they had opted for a “wait and see” treatment approach. When comparing patients undergoing physical therapy (massage, manipulation, stretching and strengthening) with those receiving cortisone injections for tennis elbow, it was shown that that the physical therapy group had a recurrence rate of 8%, compared to the 72% recurrence rate of the injection group.
How Can I Reduce Pain and Inflammation?
Treatments addressing the tendons and meant to reduce the inflammation will only produce superficial, short-term relief. Tennis elbow, along with other conditions included in the “cumulative trauma disorder” category, can only be effectively treated when the source of the strain is addressed. Chiropractic adjustments performed by an experienced technician are an excellent way of correcting mechanical problems associated with the joints and tendons of the arm and elbow.
How Can I Protect Myself from Tennis Elbow?
There are certain steps you can take to protect your elbow area and prevent this condition:
- Always be aware of your posture and grip style
- Stay in good physical shape, but steer clear from exercises that could aggravate your condition; focus on strengthening the muscles of the shoulder and upper back to take the pressure off the elbow area
- When performing physical activities, always use equipment appropriate for your build
- If you play sports such as tennis or golf, invest in quality equipment and ensure you are using the correct movements during practice
- Wear protective equipment if pain occurs; counterforce braces are also indicated for a person with a high risk of developing tennis elbow
Contact your local chiropractic office to talk about an effective treatment plan that will reduce pain and inflammation and restore the flexibility and strength of your arm within minutes after the treatment.
About the Author:
Dr. Marc Browner is the Founder of iChiropractic and Wellness in Naples, Florida. A graduate of the University of Florida in 1991, he earned his Doctor of Chiropractic degree from Life Chiropractic in 1995. In private practice since 1998, Dr. Browner is a member of the Florida Chiropractic Society, the Florida Chiropractic Association, and he attends continuing education seminars, classes, and workshops to remain abreast of the most current treatment methods and technological advances in the field.