How to Fix Tennis Elbow: Our Approach
Tennis elbow, or lateral epicondylalgia, is a diagnosis of overuse injury to the elbow. It can be a painful injury that usually occurs when the elbow is overloaded, typically due to repetitive motions of the wrist and arm.
Tennis elbow is defined as a tendinopathy of the extensor muscles in the forearm. These muscles attach to the outer part of the elbow at the lateral epicondyle of the distal humerus bone and run down to the wrist. Whilst the injury is called tennis elbow, only approximately 5% of people suffering from tennis elbow draw correlation to tennis.
This article will explain how to treat tennis elbow, the symptoms of tennis elbow and manual therapy and exercises which are used to treat it. At Barefoot Physiotherapy, we have experience treating a wide variety of clients who present with tennis elbow symptoms; the following information is backed by our team of experienced Physiotherapists.
What Are the Symptoms of Tennis Elbow?
Knowing how to fix tennis elbow means we must first understand how the symptoms are caused, so we can identify the problem and treat the source of the pain.
Tennis elbow is defined as a type of tendinopathy which is essentially the inflammation (swelling) of tendons, and this can cause pain in the elbow and forearm region. The tendons of the forearm extensors are bands formed of tissue whose role is to connect the muscles of your forearm to your elbow bone or lateral epicondyle.
As previously mentioned, you can get tennis elbow without playing tennis, as movements such as repetitive gripping activities can also cause the tendons to become inflamed. Typical symptoms of tennis elbow are pain and tenderness at the elbow’s lateral epicondyle, this pain can also radiate into the upper or lower portion of the arm. People with tennis elbow may also experience swelling in the elbow, weakness in the forearm or reduced range of movement. If you are suffering from tennis elbow you may have pain when gripping or lifting objects, driving the car, turning doorknobs, or opening jars, or potentially while typing.
Misconceptions About Tennis Elbow
As with any area of the body, the reason you are experiencing pain in your elbow can vary. Not all pain experienced in the elbow or forearm is tennis elbow. Pain and discomfort in the outer elbow region can often be misdiagnosed as tennis elbow or lateral epicondylalgia.
There are many structures which can influence the movement and feeling in the elbow and therefore a thorough investigation of a client’s symptoms is always essential to ensure there isn’t a misdiagnosis. At Barefoot Physiotherapy, we often see clients who have underlying nerve irritation which is diagnosed as tennis elbow, if there is nerve irritation in the brachial plexus (which is the nerves that supply the arm) they can cause pain at the lateral elbow. In addition, wrist or shoulder dysfunction or pain can load up the elbow and cause the elbow joint discomfort and symptoms similar to tennis elbow. Furthermore, general upper body muscular weakness can also cause discomfort after repetitive movements.
How to Fix Tennis Elbow Quickly
At Barefoot Physiotherapy, we aim to provide pain relief as soon as possible for clients with tennis elbow. Understanding how to fix tennis elbow quickly requires a focus on pain relief and symptom management. This enables the Physiotherapists to sooner start the required treatment for long term resolution of the injury.
On assessment at Barefoot Physiotherapy, we will first check to ensure there are no further underlying issues contributing to your pain including muscular tightness or nerve irritation. Treatment to upper body nerves and tight muscles can help relieve pressure and inflammation at the area, assisting in providing the client with pain relief. In addition, if it is safe to do so, your Physiotherapist will advise the use of over-the-counter anti-inflammatories to help reduce the internal source of inflammation.
In the session, your Physiotherapist may also assess that the use of supported strapping tape at the region is beneficial for you and your individual symptoms. Once sufficient pain relief is achieved, the source of symptoms needs to be identified so appropriate treatment can commence for long term tennis elbow relief.
How to Cure Tennis Elbow Long Term
At Barefoot Physiotherapy, we aim to help clients achieve long term success for all their goals. To understand how to cure tennis elbow, we undertake our Barefoot Treatment plan.
This plan, as previously mentioned, entails a thorough investigation of your previous physical history including any repetitive injuries, pain, or other health conditions. Then, an initial assessment which includes testing for any nerve irritation present throughout your body, reduced range of motion or tightness in muscles or joints. If present, we aim to clear nerve irritation first, so any gains made in muscle range or strength can hold between sessions. Your Physiotherapist will also likely discuss the need for you to rest the painful joint as much as possible, and work with you to initially modify any aggravating activities.
Once sufficient pain relief and reduction in inflammation is achieved, your Physiotherapist will work with you with a combination of manual therapy, advice and education and exercises to improve your elbow strength and resolve your tennis elbow injury.
Treating Tennis Elbow with Exercises
When working with your Physiotherapist on how to fix tennis elbow, you will likely be prescribed exercises focused on lengthening and strengthening the target muscle groups. This will not only help reduce your symptoms but will also assist in preventing future problems with the elbow.
The following are examples of exercises which may be used; however, it is recommended that you consult your own health professional for a personalised exercise program.
Lengthening exercises will often include wrist/ elbow extension and flexion stretches. Light strengthening exercises can be completed in elbow/ wrist flexion and extension before progressing to supination and pronation. You may use a light handheld weight or resistance bands to increase the difficulty of the exercise and build strength.
Grip strengthening is another important part of a tennis elbow home exercise program. Grip strength exercises can help build up forearm and wrist strength that can improve your ability to do activities of daily living pain free.
A combination of these exercises can include a towel twist which works grip strength and the wrist flexors and extensors. Whilst strengthening of the local elbow and wrist muscles is important, dependent on your underlying cause of symptoms, your physiotherapist will likely recommend the strengthening of other upper body muscles. This can include, but is not limited to; biceps, triceps, latissimus dorsi, rotator cuff muscles and intrinsic hand muscles.
Address Your Tennis Elbow with Barefoot Physiotherapy
As the article has summarised, if you are experiencing any pain or discomfort in your elbow or forearm it could be due to an overuse injury such as tennis elbow and it is recommended to book in to see a health professional for a thorough assessment and treatment plan.