Tennis Elbow: Main Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

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Tennis Elbow

Tennis Elbow: Understanding Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

What Is It?

Do you remember feeling a loss of grip and pain in your forearm after playing badminton after ages? Well, what you experienced is called a tennis elbow or lateral epicondylitis. Activities on a daily basis that involve repetitive wrist extension, overuse of forearm or hand, gripping are possible common causes of tennis elbow.

Tennis elbow is a kind of tendinitis, an inflammation or irritation of a tendon. Tendons are fibrous thick tissues that hold the muscles and bones together. Tendinitis is common around joints like wrists, knees, shoulders etc.,.

Tennis elbow is the most common reason among people who visit the doctor due to elbow pain. There is no particular age bracket among whom this can occur, but it is common in people around 40 years of age.

Common Causes

Like the name says, most common causes of tennis elbow stem from gripping strongly or for long periods of time and swinging a racquet. This motion causes strain on the muscles and puts too much stress on the tendons. This stress and constant tugging of muscles and tendons leads to microscopic tears of the tissues.

While sports like tennis, racquetball, squash and weightlifting are common and obvious causes for tennis elbow, it isn’t limited to these. People who have never wielded a racquet in their life can also suffer from this condition. Jobs or hobbies that demand repetitive arm movements or strong grips like painting, knitting, typing or, not to forget, carpentry, plumbing (and other such similar activities) can also cause this excruciating pain..

Risk Factors

In medicine, there is no hard and fast rule that only one thing is supposed to or will cause something. While there are several factors involved in determining the cause, some common risk factors that elevate the chances are:

Age

This is a common factor that acts as a contributor to a lot of medical situations. Although like we already mentioned that tennis elbow isn’t particular to an age bracket, age definitely factors in as one of the causes. It is more likely among folks between the ages of 30 to 50.

Occupation

So apart from athletes, tennis elbow is also common among people who perform jobs like cooks, butchers, carpenters and plumbers whose job demands constant and repetitive motion of the wrist. So occupation also plays quite an important role in causing it.

Sports

Then, the most obvious cause that the name itself embodies! Racquet sports like tennis, badminton, squash etc., increase the risk of tennis elbow exponentially. Obviously, most moves are supervised and trained to be made in a way that doesn’t cause strain, keeping in mind the usual medical occurrences. Still, sometimes poor stroke technique and long periods of exertion can cause the condition.

Symptoms

One of the obvious symptoms of a tennis elbow is when the bony knob, the protrusive part of the elbow hurts or feels tender. Why does the bony knob hurt you ask? The bony knob is the joint connecting the tendons to the bones also causing the pain to radiate to the upper arm and lower arm.

Although the pain is in the elbow, you are most likely to feel pain when you perform activities like

  1. Grip something
  2. Make a fist
  3. Lift something heavy or sometimes even as heavy as a filled water bottle
  4. Raise hand
  5. Try to straighten your wrist.

Diagnosis

Tennis elbow draws a lot of resemblance to another condition called the golfer’s elbow. This affects the tendons on the inside of the elbow.

In order to diagnose a tennis elbow, a thorough exam will be performed by your doctor.

They might order an imaging test like the MRI or an X-ray to rule out any other possibilities. Asking to flex and stretch one’s arms and move the wrist is also part of the diagnosis, to find the point of pain by the doctors.

Treatment

Good news if you are suffering from tennis elbow is that it will heal on its own, provided the right measures are taken. Give your elbow a joint a break from frequent movement and adapt some simple techniques to speed up the healing process. Below are some common practices that help in catalyzing the healing process.

1. Ice On The Elbow

Icing the elbow or any painful spot helps reduce pain and inflammation. It can be done 3-4 times a day for 20 to 30 minutes each time. It usually comes down with 2-3 days of doing this. If it persists you can see a doctor for further recommendations.

2. Wear an elbow strap

This is to help you avoid involuntary and unconscious movement of your arm. The strap will hold your arm in rest keeping the injured tendon from unnecessary strain and helping it heal faster.

3. Administration Of Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Or NSAIDs

When the pain worsens, we are bound to pop pills like painkillers. NSAIDs like ibuprofen or aspirin or ayurvedic products like MY Dr. products can be taken to help reduce the swelling and pain. Now, keep in mind that popping these pills frequently can cause ulcers and bleeding causing a delay in healing of the tennis elbow. The mindful thing to do would be to take them only when necessary or according to your doctor’s prescription.

4. Performing Simple Motion Exercises

While resting is important, keeping it too still might cause stiffness. To avoid that, there are some simple motion exercises that help improve mobility of the arm. Consult your doctor or a physician for the suitable exercises and they can usually be performed up to 5 times a day.

5. Physiotherapy

In cases that are slightly severe or among older adults, physiotherapy might be advised. It helps stretch out those muscles, also strengthening them. The goal is to avoid stiffness of the affected muscles and increase blood flow to tendons. Unlike other muscles, tendons don’t receive as much blood and oxygen supply.

6. Injections

In cases of extreme pain, mostly seen in athletes, steroids or painkillers are injected to help ease the pain. Although temporary, it provides immense and immediate relief from swelling and pain around the elbow joint. Steroids should not be administered regularly or in high doses.

While these conservative remedies help cure a tennis elbow within a maximum of two to four months, if the pain does not subside even then, it might be more severe than expected. In such cases, one might need surgery and we compel you to see a doctor.

The surgery usually involves removal of the injured/damaged tendon and repairing of the remaining tendon tissue. 

Recovery

Obviously, one would want to know when they can resume their usual routines of daily life. There is no definite answer to this because it really depends on the extent of damage. And the time taken to heal is dependent on that. Also, different people take different lengths of time to heal.

Our advice? Whatever you do, do not rush the process of recovery. Because that will only worsen things if the tendon isn’t fully healed causing damages that will stay in the long term. Some such damages might even cripple you for life.

However, some common factors that help you gauge the extent of you recovery are:

  1. Your elbow is no longer swollen or hurts.
  2. Your tennis elbow arm feels as good as the other one.
  3. Gripping, stretching and movement doesn’t hurt anymore.

Parting Shot

Those are our two-cents on tennis elbow and we hope we shed some valuable light on it. If you found this blog insightful, let us know about it. One can turn to allopathic medicines or ayurvedic treatment as well. Some popular recommendations include products from My Dr. pain relief with testimonials of them proving effective.

Share some of your experiences and what you did to help alleviate the pain as well.

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