Is It Tennis Elbow?
Lateral epicondylitis, also known as tennis elbow, occurs when the lateral (outer) aspect of the elbow is frequently inflamed, which results in pain. This occurs gradually with everyday tasks or sports involving repetitive motions and is not caused from direct trauma such as a fall or motor vehicle accident. Tasks that can cause this can include sweeping, racket sports such as tennis or squash, mechanic work, or even typing on the computer. Symptoms of lateral epicondylitis includes burning or achy pain with lifting objects like a gallon of water or cup of coffee and tenderness when touching the outer elbow (right along the outer bony bump known as the lateral epidcondyle). Pain can increase by stretching your wrist forward, or flexion, with the elbow straight.
There are multiple treatment options physical therapy can help provide in managing lateral epicondylitis. The first thing a person should start doing is icing their elbow and avoid heat. Icing the elbow helps decrease inflammation, while heat increases inflammation which will make the symptoms worse despite possibly giving temporary relief. While an ice pack may help control the inflammation another way to ice the elbow is by performing an ice massage. This can be done by using and ice cube or freezing water in a Styrofoam cup and massage the outside of the elbow for about 5 minutes. Icing should be the first step in managing lateral epicondylitis.
Despite the benefits of using ice when first starting to treat lateral epicondylitis, further steps need to be taken to address it. A physical therapist will perform an examination to help determine the cause of someone’s tennis elbow. The cause could be due to multiple factors such the elbow compensating for weakness of the rotator cuff or scapular stabilizers of the shoulder, range of motion limitations of the wrist, and other potential variable. In addition to muscular weaknesses or range of motion deficits at other joints, a therapist can also help determine factors of a person’s everyday tasks that could be causing their elbow pain. These include giving a person information on how to improve their ergonomics while typing on the computer or helping them determine whether the circumference of the tool they are using (such as a hammer or tennis racket) is appropriate for them. When addressed appropriately, tennis elbow is easily treated with physical therapy.
Disclaimer: This blog is for informational purposes only. Please contact your doctor or physical therapist to fully evaluate you prior to make sure you are an appropriate candidate for therapy/surgery.