Tennis elbow. That’s an affliction reserved for people who regularly play tennis, right? Not exactly. In fact, it may surprise you to know that only 5% of people diagnosed with tennis elbow are actually tennis players!
The medical name for tennis elbow is lateral epicondylitis, and it describes a painful condition of the elbow joint caused by overuse of the tendons due to repetitive motions. Basically, it can affect anybody who uses their arm to perform the same action over and over again. That includes certain sports — like tennis — as well as occupations like machine operator, painter, plumber, carpenter, or butcher, to name a few.
What Causes the Pain?
The pain is in the area where the tendons in your forearm attach to a bony bump known as the lateral epicondyle, which is located on the outside of your elbow. (The tendon typically involved in tennis elbow is called the Extensor Carpi Radialis Brevis — ECRB for short.) The pain can also spread — or radiate — into your forearm and even into your wrist. In addition to pain, there might be swelling and bruising, as well as weakness or a numb feeling in your hand.
Symptoms can sometimes be so severe that even simple actions like turning a doorknob or holding your coffee cup can be painful. The tendons become inflamed because they’re used so often, there’s no time for them to recover.
How is it Diagnosed?
The first step is a physical examination by your doctor, who may apply pressure to the affected area or ask you to move your elbow, wrist, and fingers in various ways. Sometimes, this physical exam combined with your medical history and some key questions (e.g., “What kind of work do you do?” or “Do you play a sport?”) might be enough for your doctor to diagnose tennis elbow, although she may order tests like x-rays to confirm her diagnosis or if she suspects that there might be something else that could be causing your pain.
Here’s the good news. Tennis elbow will often resolve itself with time, rest, self-care like ice therapy, and anti-inflammatory medicines such as ibuprofen, and physical therapy to stretch and strengthen the muscles in your forearm. A physical therapist can also teach you techniques to avoid re-injuring the tendons in your arm despite your sport or profession.
Even when surgery is necessary to repair a torn tendon, for example, a team approach involving your surgeon and a doctor of physical therapy is still the preferred and most successful approach to healing your tennis elbow.
The Value of Physical Therapy
It should come as no surprise that physical therapy is a key part of the comprehensive treatment of tennis elbow. In fact, nearly any injury you can imagine can get better faster with the help and advice of a trained physical therapist. Physical therapists help with pain and mobility and assist patients in getting back to the business of life! Research shows that individuals who receive regular physical therapy treatment experience greater improvement in function and decreased pain intensity.
Physical therapy is also useful for people who have chronic pain issues — such as those with arthritis. It’s a low-cost method of treatment for chronic pain and may even help patients reduce their use of pain medications. A physical therapist will develop a program that’s targeted to your specific needs with the goal of restoring movement, minimizing pain, and inspiring you on your road to healing.
In the Northeastern part of Pennsylvania, you can find the best team of physical therapists in the region at Cawley Physical Therapy and Rehab. We’re a fun-loving group with 5 state-of-the-art facilities, and we’re always ready to help get you back on your feet and ready to enjoy a more comfortable, pain-free life!