Tennis elbow is a medical condition characterized by painful and sore elbow leading to restricted elbow movement. It is also known as lateral epicondylitis since the tendons attached to the lateral epicondyle of the humerus are irritated. The most common symptoms include pain in the elbow which may radiate to arms or even wrists. The most common causes include repetitive use of the muscles of the forearm like painting, driving screws, playing tennis or excessive use of a computer mouse.
Although people of any age group may suffer from tennis elbow the condition is more common among people of 30 to 50 years and sportsmen or people who need to require repetitive elbow movement. It is not solely restricted to tennis players despite the common name of tennis elbow. Treatment options include exercise, braces and surgery may be required in certain cases. Proper management of tennis elbow can lead to complete resolution without any complications.
The common symptoms include :
- Pain in the outer part of elbow is the main symptom. The pain is usually located on the prominent part of the elbow and often radiates towards the forearm or wrist.
- The pain usually aggravates during gripping, extension and lifting movements like pouring a pitcher, shaking hand, turning door knob or holding a cup of coffee.
- The joint usually becomes stiff in the morning.
- In untreated cases pain may increase leading to impairment of joint function, weakening of grip and inability to continue playing a sport.
The muscle ends attached to the underlying bone is known as tendon. The muscles of the forearm are attached to the outer bony projection of the elbow. Repeated use of these muscles may case a tear in the tendon leading to irritation and pain. The most common causes include playing tennis or other sports requiring use of a racquet especially with poor technique, using plumbing tools, painting for long hours, driving screws repeatedly, cutting up meats or vegetables and excessive use of computer mouse. People in certain professions are therefore at a greater risk.
The condition can affect any person but people between 30 to 50 years are more commonly affected. People having jobs that requiring repetitive elbow movement like carpenters, plumbers, painters, cook and butchers are at risk of suffering from tennis elbow. Sportsmen requiring repeated elbow movement are also at risk. Tennis players are particularly at higher risk.
Symptoms of tennis elbow may resolve with over-the-counter medication like NSAIDs and rest of the joint. Ice packs and elevation of the joint also helps with resolution. Although rest is advised, avoiding all types of movement is not recommended. In cases not responding to abovementioned measures, evaluation from experts regarding appropriate movements to reduce stress on the joint during sports activities or performing job is required.
Physical therapy is required to strengthen especially the forearm muscles to reduce stress on the elbow during movement. Forearm braces are often suggested to reduce the stress on the joint during movement or helping to reduce morning stiffness. In non-responding cases surgery may be performed to remove the damaged portion of the tissue post surgery appropriate exercise is essential to restore adequate joint function. Tennis elbow usually responds well to these therapeutic measures but there is always a risk of recurrence of the symptoms along with prolonged discomfort during joint movement.