Tennis elbow, or lateral epicondylitis, commonly affects millions worldwide. In this blog, we delve into the intricacies of tennis elbow, addressing its causes, symptoms, and treatment options. Understanding this condition is essential even if you've never hit a tennis ball. That's because everyday activities, like typing or lifting, can also trigger tennis elbow.

7.jpeg Let's unravel the nuances of tennis elbow, aiming to arm you with the knowledge to identify if you're suffering from this condition and what steps you can take to seek relief. Now, let's venture into the body of this blog.

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Understanding Tennis Elbow

Tennis elbow, also known as lateral epicondylitis, is a painful condition caused by the overloading of tendons in the elbow. It occurs due to repetitive wrist and arm motions, not just in athletes but also in individuals with jobs that involve such motions, like plumbers, painters, carpenters, and butchers. The pain is primarily felt when the tendons of the forearm muscles attach to the bony bump on the outside of the elbow. It can also radiate into the forearm and wrist. Rest and over-the-counter pain relievers are often effective in managing tennis elbow. However, if symptoms persist or become disabling, a doctor may recommend surgery.

Common Tennis Elbow Symptoms

Regarding tennis elbow (lateral epicondylitis), the primary focus is on the most common symptom: recurring pain on the outside of the upper forearm, just below the bend of the elbow. This pain may also radiate down the forearm towards the wrist. Other symptoms of tennis elbow include

  1. Pain and Tenderness: The pain may start from the elbow and spread to the rest of the forearm, and it can become more intense during activities such as lifting, gripping, or reaching for objects.
  2. Stiffness: You may experience stiffness in the elbow, especially in the morning or when attempting to make a fist or grip an object.
  3. Weakness: Tennis elbow can cause weakness in the affected forearm, making it challenging to perform everyday tasks like shaking hands or holding a cup.
  4. Poor Grip Strength: A noticeable elbow weak grip strength is another critical indicator of tennis elbow.

If these symptoms persist or worsen, seeking medical attention is recommended. It is important to note that other conditions like arthritis, golfer's elbow, or radial tunnel syndrome can present similar symptoms. Therefore, a proper diagnosis is crucial when dealing with arm pain and weak grip strength associated with tennis elbow.

Risk Factors and Causes of Tennis Elbow

Tennis elbow is often linked to the overuse of the muscles and tendons of the forearm, which may result from various activities and conditions. Here are some of the primary risk factors and causes:

  1. Age: While tennis elbow can occur at any age, it's most common in adults between 30 and 50.
  2. Occupational Hazards: Jobs that involve repetitive movements of the wrist and arm, such as plumbing, painting, carpentry, cooking, and even computer use, can increase the risk of developing tennis elbow.
  3. Certain Sports: As the name suggests, playing racquet sports, especially tennis, can lead to the development of tennis elbow, a condition caused by repetitive use of the arm and wrist. However, other sports that require similar movements, such as squash or badminton, can also contribute to the strain on the elbow joint and lead to the development of tennis elbow.
  4. Smoking and Obesity: Studies have indicated that smokers and individuals who are obese are more likely to suffer from tennis elbow.
  5. Pre-existing Conditions: Conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis or nerve disease can predispose an individual to tennis elbow.

Remember, anyone can get tennis elbow, not just athletes. It's essential to take preventive measures, such as stretches and strengthening exercises, and closely monitor any persistent elbow or forearm pain. If you experience ongoing discomfort, seek medical advice.

Treatment Options

Diagnosing tennis elbow typically involves a physical examination and a thorough medical history review. Dr. Spiess may ask about your daily activities, assess your pain level, and examine your arm for discomfort or tenderness. In some cases, imaging tests like X-rays or MRI scans may be used to rule out other conditions. Elbow tendonitis often improves on its own. Topical anti-inflammatories and activity modification may be initially recommended.

However, if these modalities aren't effective, your doctor may recommend therapy. Surgery is only necessary for severe cases of tennis elbow, unresponsive to non-operative measures.

The following treatment options are available at Pittsburgh Hand and Nerve:

Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP)

Platelet-rich plasma therapy uses an injection of a concentration of your platelets to accelerate the healing of injured tendons, ligaments, muscles, and joints. PRP injections are prepared by taking a small amount of your blood and running it through a centrifuge to concentrate the platelets. These activated platelets are then injected into your injured or diseased body tissue. This releases growth factors that stimulate and increase the number of reparative cells your body produces. PRP has been shown to enhance the healing process, improve function, and reduce pain in people with tendonitis or chronic tendinosis, such as Tennis elbow or Golfer's elbow.

            Anti inflammatory (corticosteroid) Injections

An injection into the painful area of the elbow with a corticosteroid is usually the first line intervention, along with a prescription for a topical anti-inflammatory.

Occupational Therapy

At Pittsburgh Hand and Nerve, we have our own in-house Occupational Therapists. They can evaluate your tennis elbow and make suggestions for a home exercise program. Or, if you feel like you need more intensive/hands-on treatment, they can see you once or twice a week for six weeks. During these in-house sessions, our therapists can utilize our Advanced Therapy Modalities, such as Cold Laser, Cold Compression,Ultrasound, and Fluidotherapy.

Surgical Intervention

Suppose your symptoms persist despite extensive non-operative treatment for six to twelve months. In that case, you may be eligible for a surgical procedure to remove damaged tissue, commonly known as tennis elbow surgery. Occupational therapy also plays a vital role in the recovery process. 

Preventing Tennis Elbow Through Exercise, Equipment Usage, and Lifestyle Changes

Preventing tennis elbow involves various strategies, including proper exercise, equipment usage, and lifestyle adjustments.

  1. Strengthening Exercises: Regular exercises can improve your forearm muscles and reduce the likelihood of tennis elbow. This includes wrist extensions, curls, and resistance band exercises targeting your arm muscles.
  2. Stretching: Before engaging in any physical activity. This improves flexibility and reduces the likelihood of strain or injury.
  3. Proper Equipment Use: In sports like tennis, using a racket with the right grip size can help prevent tennis elbow. Likewise, ergonomic tools can significantly reduce the risk in occupations involving repetitive arm movements.
  4. Technique: In any physical activity, using the correct muscle-stimulating techniques is crucial to prevent undue strain on your arm and wrist. If unsure, seek expert advice to ensure your form is correct.
  5. Rest Periods: Regular breaks during activities involving repetitive arm and wrist movements give your muscles time to recover, reducing the risk of overuse injuries like tennis elbow.
  6. Healthy Lifestyle: A balanced diet, regular exercise, and maintaining a healthy weight can improve overall health and reduce the risk of various musculoskeletal conditions, including tennis elbow.
  7. Quit Smoking: As smoking has been linked to an increased risk of tennis elbow develop gradually, quitting smoking can help reduce this risk.

Integrating these tactics into your routine can greatly decrease the likelihood of developing tennis elbow. However, paying attention to your body and consulting a medical professional if you have persistent pain in your elbow or forearm is crucial. Remember, the forearm muscles extend to maintain optimal health.

When to See A Doctor

Seeking professional help for tennis elbow is recommended when experiencing persistent or recurring pain in the elbow. If the pain worsens when grasping objects or performing simple tasks, or if visible swelling and difficulty is moving the elbow, it's time to schedule a medical consultation. The doctor will ask about medical history and symptoms during the consultation and conduct a physical examination. Imaging tests may be suggested to confirm the diagnosis. Treatment options may include physical therapy, medication, or surgery in severe cases.

Don't Let Tennis Elbow Hold You Back! Schedule an Appointment with Dr. Spiess at Pittsburgh Hand and Nerve Today!

Is persistent elbow pain interfering with your daily activities? Don't suffer in silence. Dr. Spiess at Pittsburgh Hand and Nerve is here to help. Offering a comprehensive array of treatment options, from PRP therapy to surgical interventions, we're committed to finding a solution that suits your needs. Book an appointment today and take the first step towards a pain-free life!

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