Tennis elbow is a painful condition affecting the outside part of the elbow. This area is called the lateral epicondyle and so the medical term for this condition is lateral epicondylitis. Tennis elbow is usually caused by overuse of the forearm.
Many forearm muscles attach at or around the lateral epicondyle so when they are overused they pull too much on the elbow and make it sore. Patients typically develop this condition in association with activities involving repeated wrist extension against resistance. This includes sporting activities such as tennis, squash, badminton, as well as manual work such as carpentry, painting, chopping wood, bricklaying, repetitive use of a screwdriver, sewing and knitting or working at a computer. Patients may also develop this condition from other activities involving repetitive or forceful gripping of the hand.
Pain and tenderness is usually felt on the outside of your dominant elbow and into the upper forearm. The pain is often aggravated by wrist movements, gripping and anything which requires use of the forearm muscles. Most cases of tennis elbow settle well with appropriate physiotherapy treatment. This requires careful assessment by the treating physiotherapist to determine which factors have contributed to the development of the condition, with subsequent correction of these factors.
Physiotherapy treatment for this condition is vital to hasten the healing process, ensure an optimal outcome and reduce
the likelihood of injury recurrence.
Treatment may include the following:
- Soft tissue massage
- Joint mobilization
- Ice or heat treatment
- Dry needling
- Progressive exercises to improve flexibility and strength
- Technique correction
- Devising and monitoring an appropriate return to sport or activity plan
- Training and activity modification advice
- Anti-inflammatory advice
With appropriate management, most minor cases of tennis elbow that have not been present for long can usually recover within a few weeks. In more severe and chronic cases recovery can be a lengthy process and may take up to 6 months in those who have had their condition for a long period of time. Early physiotherapy intervention is therefore vital to hasten recovery.