Do you have to play tennis to develop tennis elbow?
Tennis elbow, which is a relatively common condition, occurs when a tear develops in the tendons attached to the outside of the elbow, leading to pain and inflammation. More technically referred to as lateral epicondylitis or just lateral elbow pain, it is an overuse type of injury. Although it is estimated that more than half of the people who play tennis will, at one time or another, develop tennis elbow, far more people get it who never pick up a racket.
The fluid-filled sacs in the joints that provide cushioning between the muscles, tendons and bones are called bursae. When something, like overuse or repetitive motion, causes the bursae to become inflamed, this is bursitis. When bursitis occurs in the elbow it is called tennis elbow.
The symptoms of tennis elbow show up in the elbow, but it is the stress placed on the wrist that causes the damage. Any type of repetitive activity or movement that results in a lot of force being felt in the wrist can contribute to this condition. Obviously, a tennis swing is a perfect example, as well as the reason so many players develop the inflammation in the tendons that becomes tennis elbow. Other similar movement patterns, like those used by painters, carpenters, assembly line workers, musicians, gardeners and computer programmers, where the thumb and first two fingers are involved in repetitive gripping motions, are likely causes.
Men and women seem to be equally at risk of developing tennis elbow and age is only a factor in that it tends to occur more often in those who are over 40. Smokers and those who are obese are more likely to develop tennis elbow than those who do not smoke and who maintain a healthy body weight. This should not come as much of a surprise since these two factors show up on most lists of contributing risk factors.
Symptoms Associated with Tennis Elbow
Although not always the case, the movements that contribute to tennis elbow generally take their toll gradually. When that first tear finally happens, the individual may be immediately aware or it may take some time for the pain and inflammation to become noticeable.
The most common signs and symptoms of tennis elbow include:
- Pain and a burning sensation from the outside of the elbow down the forearm to the wrist
- Less than normal amount of strength in the arm, hand, and wrist
- Problems trying to grip objects, open doors and shake hands
The first step in treating tennis elbow is to identify and stop or modify the type of movement or overuse that is the underlying cause. Often, this, combined with a period of rest and icing the area is all that it will take.
For cases that require more than these simple steps taken at home, your healthcare professional may recommend medication for reducing pain and inflammation, steroid injections, physical therapy and platelet-rich plasma therapy.
Surgery is rarely necessary. That being said, when there is a severely damaged tendon, it may require surgery to heal. Both open and arthroscopic procedures are available, and your orthopedist will discuss the merits of these with you.
If you have questions about tennis elbow or any other orthopedic concerns, the physicians and staff of South Island Orthopedics are very experienced in a wide range of orthopedic conditions and are committed to providing personalized care in a state-of-the-art facility. To schedule an appointment, or if you just have questions, please use our convenient online contact form by clicking here.