Tennis Elbow is a tender condition that occurs when tendons in your elbow are burdened, usually by tedious motions of the arm and wrist. The name is misleading as most people who have it, did not attain it by playing tennis. Technically it is also known as “Lateral Epicondylitis”. This is a result of inflammation just above the elbow joint, on the outer side of the arm. Pain can also be experienced in other areas of the elbow and forearm.
The development of Tennis Elbow can often be traced to methods of using the forearm muscles which control the hand and wrist movements. These muscles are used to perform actions like straightening the fingers, bending the wrist upwards and rolling the forearm into a palms-up position. The sudden impact and even lesser forces on a repetitive basis can eventually damage the tissues, in the same way, a rope becomes frayed. Without rest and time for the tissue to heal, strained tendons can become permanently weakened and painful; it also weakens the grip strength.
Individuals usually ignore this condition for long periods before seeking medical help, mostly because the symptoms are mild and often disappear with a little rest. Self-medication with locally available pain medication gives satisfactory relief in the early stages; the doctor’s counsel is only sought when the pain starts to affect work and becomes intolerable.
About 1% of cases last more than one year; this occurs often in patients who do not respond positively to non-invasive treatment options. For such patients, steroid injections, Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP) injections locally or rarely, surgery might be a solution.
PREVENTION: Tasks linked with Tennis Elbow should be identified and modified to reduce the risk of serious injury. One of the greatest concerns is the overuse of fingers, wrists, and forearms in repetitive work involving forceful movement, awkward postures, and lack of rest. Avoid jobs that place extreme force, the strain on muscles of the forearm. Timely attention typically reduces the development of a serious problem. The most important steps in treatment include:
- Identify problematic activities and avoid them
- Correction of incorrect postures and motions
- Use of ice packs or medication such as oral or topical non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), as prescribed by your doctor, to reduce the inflammation or pain
- Exercise regimen such as gentle stretches, eccentric and concentric strengthening
- Physiotherapy to boost the healing process, restore the elbow to its highest level of function, and assist the person in returning to work
Avoiding activities that cause elbow pain is vital to the treatment of Tennis Elbow. Often known as “self-limiting”, the pain and discomfort ultimately disappear when people change or avoid activities that cause pain. Support pads and elbow braces may also be worn for short term pain relief.
Inputs by Dr. Kaushal Malhan, Director of Orthopaedic Surgery, Fortis Hospital, Mulund