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Understanding Tennis Elbow: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Tennis elbow, also called lateral epicondylitis, is a type of tendinitis that affects the wrist extensor musculature. While it is commonly associated with tennis, it can actually affect anyone who performs repetitive wrist movements. Tennis elbow causes pain and tenderness on the outside of the elbow and can make even simple everyday tasks like gripping a cup or turning a doorknob painful. In this blog post, we’ll explore the causes, symptoms, and treatment options for tennis elbow.

What is tennis elbow?

Tennis elbow is caused by overloading of the wrist extensor musculature. This can cause small tears to develop in the tendons that attach to the bony protrusion on the outer part of your elbow, known as your lateral epicondyle. This can lead to inflammation and pain in the lateral aspect of the elbow and into the forearm. These muscles are responsible for extending the wrist and fingers. Age, gender, and certain medical conditions like diabetes can also increase a person’s risk of developing tennis elbow.

What are the symptoms of tennis elbow?

The most common symptom of tennis elbow is pain and tenderness on the outside of the elbow. This pain may also radiate down the forearm and into the wrist and may be exacerbated by gripping or lifting objects. Stiffness, weakness, and a popping or cracking sensation in the elbow may also be present. This pain can range from mild and achy to severe and sharp, sometimes accompanied by a burning sensation.

What are the treatments?

Tennis elbow typically does not resolve with rest and some sort of treatment is usually needed. During the initial phases of treatment, soft tissue techniques, stretching, and gentle loading of the wrist extensor musculature may be utilized to desensitize the wrist extensor musculature. Taping techniques may also be used for the same effect. The key to treatment is to eccentrically load the wrist extensor musculature. This means we are strengthening the wrist extensor musculature in a specific manner that targets the tendon. Research shows that the tendon will respond positively to consistently loading the tissue in this manner and will become healthier.

Activities may need to be modified to avoid overloading the affected tissue. This may include avoiding overly strenuous activities until better tolerated or taking breaks during activities that require repetitive wrist movements or lifting. A general rule of thumb to try to avoid overloading tissue is to keep pain below a 4/10 with activities and exercises.

Tennis elbow is a common condition that affects many people and can cause significant pain and dysfunction in the affected arm. If you suspect that you may have tennis elbow, it is important to seek medical attention as soon as possible to prevent further damage and promote healing. With the right treatment plan from a physical therapist, most people with tennis elbow can make a full recovery and return to their normal activities.

Schedule a consultation with one of our physical therapists today to get started on your journey to being pain-free!

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