Lateral epicondylitis, also referred to as "tennis elbow," is a very common cause of elbow pain. It is considered a cumulative trauma injury that occurs over time from repeated use of the muscles of the arm and forearm, leading to small tears of the tendons.
In racket sports, overuse of the forearm muscles and repeated impact can increase the risk of tennis elbow developing. Other factors that may contribute to tennis elbow include lack of strength, poor technique, and more duration or intensity of play. There is some controversy over the racket's string tension being related to higher impact forces on the forearm muscles. There is little evidence of any relationship between racket grip circumference and tennis elbow symptoms.
Sometimes the pain and inflammation of the tendon is caused by a direct injury or impact. Occasionally, the muscles may partially tear.
Symptoms Pain on the outside of the elbow, usually during or after intense use, is the first sign of tennis elbow. In some cases, lifting or grasping objects may be difficult. Some people have pain that radiates down the arm.
Treatment Because this injury if caused by overuse of the wrist extensors (muscles that pull the hand up) rest is the first treatment step. Discontinuing activities that cause the pain is recommended. Using the R.I.C.E. method (rest, ice, compression and elevation) of acute injury treatment is extremely helpful to reduce pain and swelling. Icing the elbow for 10-15 minutes at a time will decrease the inflammation and swelling and relieve pain. Wrapping the forearm near the elbow may help protect the injured muscles as they are healing.
A physical therapist may use ultrasound or other modalities to help heal the damage of an injury. Additionally, they may prescribe flexibility and strengthening exercises to allow you to return to the activity. In some cases, a wrist splint or brace may be recommended.
Anti-inflammatory medication may help reduce inflammation and pain. In chronic or intense cases, a cortisone injection may relieve the discomfort.
Because recurrence of this condition is common, return to activity should not occur too quickly, and preventive exercises that stretch and strengthen the muscles should be done consistently.
If nonsurgical forms of treatment do not eliminate the pain of this condition, surgery may be recommended. A hand surgeon will offer advice regarding potential treatments and the possible outcomes of various surgical options. Lateral epicondylitis left untreated, is often a nagging or chronic condition sometimes requiring many months for healing to occur. Prompt diagnosis and treatment is important for anyone suffering from elbow pain.