Lateral Epicondylitis (Tennis Elbow)
Tennis Elbow is a condition that results in deterioration of the tendon fibers that attach to the bone at the outside of the elbow. Tendons are fibers that connect your muscles to your bones. Tendons vary in size and shape. Your tendons and muscles move the bones in your joints. These are tissues that do not very easily stretch, leaving them more susceptible to degeneration under repeated stress. Tennis Elbow is also known as Lateral Epicondylitis. Usually, the pain of Tennis Elbow is primarily where the tendons of the forearm muscles attach to the elbow bone at the Lateral Epicondyle.
A tendon anchors the forearm muscles to the outer side of the elbow bone. The forearm muscles, more specifically the Extensor Carpi Radialis Brevis, work together to raise the hand at the wrist joint. These muscles are typically called the “wrist extensors” because they allow the hand to move upward or extend. Repeated use of these wrist extensors can cause microscopic tears in the tendon. Those who develop tendon tears or degeneration can develop forearm muscle weakness. This happens along with swelling and pain at the outside of the elbow.
Tennis Elbow Causes
Tennis Elbow is most commonly found occurring in individuals between the ages of 30 and 50 years old. Tennis Elbow is typically caused by chronic stress to the forearm muscles, especially the Extensor Carpi Radialis Brevis, as previously mentioned. The repeated motions and stress can cause the tendon to degenerate, known as tendinopathy. As the name Tennis Elbow implies, playing tennis is one of the most common causes of the condition. However, many individuals develop Tennis Elbow for no identifiable reason.
Tennis Elbow Symptoms
Individuals with Tennis Elbow frequently experience severe burning pain and tenderness at the outer side of their elbow and forearm. In most cases, the pain starts out slow and mild but gradually increases over weeks or months, as the tendon continues to tear. The elbow pain may increase when the joint moves or when pressure is applied to the outer elbow area. Some individuals suffer with morning stiffness, muscle weakness, as well as aching throughout the day. This may leave patients the inability to perform the motions necessary to complete various tasks. In extreme cases, individuals may even feel pain when they are not moving their arm.
Tennis Elbow Diagnosis
The doctor will perform an examination and review the medical and activity history to make a diagnosis of Tennis Elbow. This is done using a series of tests. The history and examination, supplemented with X-rays of the elbow are usually sufficient to make the diagnosis. X-rays will be used if the elbow bone was injured and help rule out other possible causes of elbow pain, such as arthritis.
Tennis Elbow Treatment
Most cases of Tennis Elbow will respond well to non-surgical treatments. Treatment typically includes rest or activity alteration or restriction. Specific exercises, often under the guidance of a physical therapist, are often utilized. Your doctor may tell you to ice to the affected areas or recommend medication to relieve pain. Wrist splints and forearm bands may be used to relieve symptoms and promote healing.
Tennis Elbow can also be treated with corticosteroid medications. Corticosteroid medication is a relatively safe pain reliever, and in the case of tennis elbow, would be injected at the outside of the elbow. After the pain has subsided, physical or occupational therapy may be needed. The physical therapists will focus on improving physical function for participation in activities and address muscle strength, flexibility, endurance, and coordination.This method is successful for many individuals with Tennis Elbow.
Tennis Elbow Surgery
Most Tennis Elbow cases will not require surgery, and surgery is only considered if significant amounts of pain continue after at least six months of continuous treatment. Tennis Elbow surgery is performed as an outpatient procedure. The individual may remain alert with regional anesthesia or choose to be sedated for the surgery. The surgeon makes a small opening on the outside of the elbow bone in order to remove the injured tissue. The surgeon then reattaches the tendon to the bone. Recently, an arthroscopic surgery method was developed. Arthroscopic surgery uses a small camera to guide the surgery. Only small incisions will need to be made and the joint does not have to be opened up fully. This technique can provide a positive outcome and a much shortened recovery time.
Following surgery, the elbow is placed in a splint. After roughly one week, the individual can begin physical or occupational therapy. Muscle strengthening can begin at about two months after the surgery, if there are no complications. Individuals typically return to full activity levels four to six months after surgery.
Tennis Elbow Recovery
With non-surgical treatments, symptoms of Tennis Elbow may be relieved as early as four to six weeks. However, many individuals have chronic symptoms for many months. Individuals requiring corticosteroid injections or surgery may take several months to recover, but typically can achieve good, long lasting results. Tennis Elbow does not usually lead to severe problems if correctly treated.
At SPORT, we will identify the source of your pain and then utilize state-of-the-art therapeutic techniques that focus on restoring your range of motion.
Depending on the specific condition and its severity, these treatment options may include physical therapy, over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication, slings and supports, cortisone shots, or shoulder or elbow surgery.
If you have an acute or chronic shoulder or elbow injury that needs medical attention, call SPORT at (469) 200-28322 to arrange a consultation or you can request one online. Hurt today? We can arrange a same-day urgent care visit to ensure you get fast, effective relief.