You don’t have to play tennis to have a tennis elbow

tennis-elbow

SEPTEMBER 2015 – You’ve probably heard of or know someone who has had tennis elbow.  Despite its prevalence, few people have a good understanding of what tennis elbow really is or how to treat it.

What’s especially confusing is despite the name, most people who develop tennis elbow do so without ever picking up a tennis racquet. Think about it, when was the last time you heard of a Serena Williams or Novak Djokovic missing a match due to tennis elbow?

Instead, tennis elbow is much more likely to occur in someone, like you or me, and it is often completely unrelated to sport participation.  

Tennis elbow, also known as lateral epicondylitis, is an inflammation of the tissues that attach on the outside of the elbow. Specifically, it’s inflammation in the tendons of the wrist extensor muscles that pull or lift the wrist backwards. These muscles do not produce any motion at the elbow itself.  In fact, the most symptomatic motion for people with tennis elbow is typically activities requiring gripping with the hand.

For complete relief from tennis elbow a good physical therapist will address all factors causing overload and inflammation of the wrist extensor muscles. A comprehensive evaluation includes assessment of not only the elbow, but also the wrist, hand, shoulder, neck and back.

Many people get relief from tennis elbow simply by improving their posture, especially at their computer. Computer set up can be a huge part of the onset of symptoms. Periodic ergonomic assessment is recommended to reduce your risk for computer related overuse injuries.  By keeping your wrists relaxed between flexion and extension when typing you can prevent overworking the wrist extensors.

The same thing is true when holding any kind of object, be it a grocery bag, garden spade, hammer or tennis racket. Control of the wrist, shoulder, neck and back can have a huge impact on symptoms of lateral elbow pain.

You’ve probably seen people wear straps looking like sweat bands over their elbow.  Straps like this can help manage the loading mechanism on inflamed tissues. They can provide relief especially at the early onset of symptoms.

However, these straps do little to change the under lying factors that predisposed the muscles to inflammation. While these straps can temporarily decrease elbow pain, you must also identify the underlying cause of the pain to prevent the condition from becoming chronic and also to prevent other overuse type injuries from developing.

Tennis elbow, like many nagging musculoskeletal injuries, is a multifactorial problem.  The earlier you seek care, the easier it is to treat the inflammatory pain and address the underlying causative factors.

Those factors can include control deficits elsewhere in your body, poor ergonomics (which is the study of people’s efficiency in their working environment), poor posture in non-sport challenges, poor grip technique, poor conditioning and poor equipment fit to your body. Make sure you find a trusted physical therapist to help you identify and fix all these factors to keep you functioning at your best in the game of life.

Article by Scott Moreland, DPT. Scott is a physical therapist and movement specialist at CORE Strategies Physical Therapy, Sport Performance & Medical Fitness in Overland Park.  The CORE team specializes in rehabilitation and performance training for clients of all ages and activity levels.  To learn more about CORE’s sport specific programs visit www.coreptkc.com.  Contact Scott at scott@coreptkc.com.

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