The following describes the symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of tennis elbow. For specific information regarding your health and treatment options, please contact your Hurley physician or medical professional.
What is tennis elbow?
Epicondylitis, commonly known as tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow, is essentially the inflammation or degeneration of tissue fibers, particularly the tendons, that connect the muscles of the forearm to the bone within the elbow. (Tennis elbow involves pain on the outside of the elbow, while golfer’s elbow involves pain on the inside of the elbow.) These are the muscles that lift or extend the hand or wrist. If a person uses their hand or elbow the wrong way, especially repeatedly over time, a muscle or tendon can become strained, inflamed or torn.
What causes tennis elbow?
Tennis elbow is rarely caused by a single injury or event. Rather, it typically arises after an extended period of overuse or misuse of the tendon, generally in work (such as meat cutting, plumbing, painting, carpentry, typing, raking, weaving, knitting) or sports (including tennis, racquetball and golf) that require repetitive and strong use of the forearm muscle. The repeated movements can cause an inflammation or tear in the tendons.
What are the symptoms of tennis elbow?
Symptoms include redness and swelling around the elbow joint, and pain on the inside or at the outside bony part of the elbow may cause difficulty with gripping, turning the hand or swinging the arm. The pain may radiate up and down the forearm, or even the upper arm, when making a motion that resembles the repetitive motion. The pain may vary from minor to quite severe, depending on the level of injury.
How is tennis elbow diagnosed?
Your Hurley physician will conduct a complete physical exam to assess levels of pain or tenderness in the joint, including pressing on the joint and asking you to move the elbow in order to determine range of motion with and without pain. An MRI or x-rays may be called for in order to rule out arthritis or a fracture.
How is tennis elbow treated?
Your Hurley physician will recommend a customized treatment approach, based on your age, overall health, activity levels, and the location and seriousness of the injury. For immediate self-care, follow the PRINCE treatment model:
P: Protect your elbow with a supportive brace.
R: Rest your elbow
I: Use ice your elbow several times a day for 10 to 20 minutes each time, to reduce pain and swelling. (Be sure to use a cloth between the ice or ice bag and your elbow, in order to avoid damage to your skin.)
N: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) may be used to help with pain relief and to reduce swelling.
C: Compression with an elastic compression wrap also helps reduce swelling; however, do not rely on the wrap for support while walking.
E: Elevation—lie back and raise your elbow above the level of your heart (using a pillow for support) to reduce swelling and bruising.
Non-surgical treatment alternatives include pulse ultrasound to break up scar tissue and improve blood flow to the affected joint. Corticosteroids, physical therapy and range-of-motion exercises may also be prescribed.
Surgery is considered only for the most severe cases. Surgery can sometimes be done arthroscopically, but is typically done through an open incision. The damaged tissue is removed and the tendon is reattached to the bone. Both arthroscopic and open-incision surgery can generally be done on an outpatient basis.
After surgery, the elbow is put in a brace for a period of time, after which the patient must engage in physical therapy. When you do return to normal activity, you should find an ergonomics or sports specialist who can evaluate your movements and recommend proper form. You should also practice hand-wrist strengthening exercises, be sure to warm up before any activity and ice your elbow following the activity.