You don’t necessarily have to play tennis to get tennis elbow! Tennis elbow, or lateral epicondylitis, is an inflammation or micro-tearing of the tendons that attach the muscle in the forearm to the bone in the upper arm at the elbow.
What causes tennis elbow?
Tennis elbow is usually caused by damage to the extensor carpi radialis brevis (ECRB) muscle in the forearm. The ECRB muscle helps to stabilise the wrist when the elbow is straight. When it is weakened by overuse, tiny tears can form in the tendon where it attaches to the bony knob on the outside of the elbow, causing inflammation and pain.
Although almost half of tennis players will suffer from tennis elbow at some point, especially if using incorrect techniques, it often occurs in people with occupations or activities that require the use of repetitive movements, especially the twisting and flexing of the wrist. Some examples would be people with occupations such as carpenters, plumbers, painters, butchers, computer-based workers and chefs or who participate in activities such as gardening, other racquet sports, swimming, fencing and weight-lifting.
What are the symptoms?
The symptoms of tennis elbow usually develop gradually, starting off as mild but slowly worsening over time. You may notice:
- Elbow pain that is mild at first, but gradually develops into a severe, burning pain
- Pain that extends from the outside of the elbow down to the forearm and wrist
- Weakening of your grip strength
- Swelling, stiffness and/or pain on the outside of your elbow to touch
- Increase in pain when you shake hands, squeeze an object or open a door
- Pain when lifting something, opening a jar or using tools
- Pain over the outside of your elbow after sleeping on your side.
How is it diagnosed?
Your doctor will consider various factors when making a diagnosis. An examination will be done and you will be put through some movement and touch tests to determine when and where you are experiencing pain. These tests should help your doctor to make a diagnosis. You will also be asked about how the symptoms developed, what your occupation is and if you participate in recreational sport to help in pinpointing any possible causes. Your doctor may recommend further tests, such as an x-ray or MRI to rule out any other causes.
If you are concerned that you may have tennis elbow, it is important that you contact your doctor as soon as possible so a treatment and exercise plan can be put in place to ensure a speedy recovery.