Tennis Elbow

The term ‘tennis elbow’ is used in a general way to describe most injuries that affect the elbow and cause pain when the elbow joint is moved or rotated. It is clinically known as Lateral Epicondylitis.

The area of pain for tennis elbow is usually the outer part of the elbow. The inner part of the elbow, if causing pain, is called ‘golfers elbow’.

Both of these areas of injury are regarded as having been caused by excessive or repetitive use of the elbow joint in sports. In fact, injury caused by over-use of the joint can be attributed to many other reasons and the type of work the person does in their daily life.

Only 5% of persons with tennis elbow have got it from the sport. Recent advances in diagnostic imaging can be very helpful in making a more accurate diagnosis of the injury and possible cause.

It is a good idea to consult early with a professional physiotherapist who will be able to give you good medical advice. If left untreated, and the activity continued that has caused the injury, the damage to the elbow area and resultant pain will probably get worse.

Rest is the best idea and cold compresses to the elbow may help relieve the discomfort. Corticosteroid injections have not been very successful in long-term treatment even if they give short-term relief.

Treating tennis elbow

Tennis elbow generally improves over time without treatment if the activity is stopped or reduced that is causing the problem.

A cold compress, like a bag of frozen peas wrapped in a towel to avoid ice burns, held against your elbow for a few minutes several times a day can help ease the pain. Painkillers, like paracetamol, may help reduce mild pain.

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) like ibuprofen are useful to reduce any inflammation. Physiotherapy can be helpful. Massaging and manipulating the affected area can help relieve the pain, and improve the arm’s movement and blood circulation.

Tennis elbow usually lasts between 6 months and 2 years  –  most people (90%) make a full recovery within a year.

The most important thing to do is to rest your injured arm and stop doing the activity that caused the injury.

Topical NSAIDs applied directly to the painful area of the elbow may be better than taking tablets that could cause side effects. Some NSAIDs are only available on prescription  –  so better to consult with your GP.

Preventing tennis elbow

Try to avoid too much repetitive use of the elbow at work which puts undue stress on the elbow. If the cause is sports-related then a detailed examination of your tennis or golf technique with an experienced professional is a  good investment.

A warm-up programme should include gently stretching your arm muscles as well as legs. Check out with your coach that you are using a racket with the appropriate grip size for your hand.

Most adult males need a grip size 4 or 5  –  if necessary, wind on an overgrip to make up the difference. Use a tennis elbow wrap-around support or splint when playing to stop further damage and relieve pain.

Build up extra strength in your forearm muscles with specific exercises to prevent strain on the joints.

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