Your hips are major ball-and-socket joints separating the upper and lower body. They are essential to your ability to stand, walk, and maintain balance.
Your elbows are important but sometimes overlooked physical features. These major joints allow you to bend your arms, twist your wrists, and even grasp items with your hands. Elbows continually move and bend, making them vulnerable to different types of injuries. One specific example is a condition called tennis elbow.
The elbow joint connects three bones making up your upper arm and forearm. These bones are connected to muscles by soft tissues like ligaments and tendons.
Tennis elbow (lateral epicondylitis) happens when the elbow’s muscles and soft tissues come into contact with small but sharp bone endings known as epicondyles.
The condition often results from overuse or overextension of the forearm muscles and soft tissues near the elbow. Inflammation results when these bone endings interact with muscles and soft tissues with greater force and frequency. Over time, inflammation may result in injury.
The condition commonly occurs in tennis players because they forcefully and continually use their forearms and wrists to compete. Other activities might also place you at risk of developing this condition.
Tennis elbow is common in athletes participating in sports requiring constant forearm and wrist extension. Your chances of injury also increase if you are employed in professions such as painting, plumbing, construction work, and all other jobs that require you to lift heavy objects.
It is estimated that anywhere from one to three percent of Americans come down with the condition. It impacts both men and women equally. Tennis elbow most commonly occurs between the ages of 30 and 50, but cases have been reported in persons representing many other age groups.
Pain is the most obvious sign. You will often feel discomfort in the upper forearm, close to where your elbow bends. The pain might also occur in the forearm’s middle section and wrist.
Discomfort often recurs and worsens upon engaging in activities such as bending your arm, lifting heavy items, writing, turning a doorknob, or even gripping objects. Your discomfort could be a burning or shooting pain.
Besides pain, you may also experience stiffness, redness, and swelling around the injured elbow and forearm. In advanced cases, you might notice elbow weakness or mobility issues.
Muscle and soft tissue damage caused by tennis elbow will only worsen. As time progresses, your pain will likely intensify, making leisure or even everyday activities difficult to perform. In serious cases, you may have trouble grasping small items like pens or eating utensils.
The diagnostic process involves several phases.
During the first stage, your doctor will perform a physical examination. If your doctor believes you might have tennis elbow, they will closely examine your elbow and forearm, searching for any obvious irregularities.
They will likely then ask you questions, including:
- When did the pain begin?
- Do any activities make the discomfort worse?
- What type of work do you do?
- What leisure activities do you participate in?
- Do you play any sports?
- Do any other symptoms go with the pain?
To reach a definite conclusion, your doctor may order diagnostic tests such as:
- X-rays – X-rays enable doctors to take and review pictures of your bones. They can rule out injuries like bone breaks.
- Internal Imaging Scans – Diagnostic tools like magnetic resonance imaging and computerized tomography, abbreviated as MRI and CT scans, capture photos of your arm and elbow’s insides. Soft tissue and muscle damage are often easily detected using these devices.
Uncomplicated cases found early often heal on their own. Moderate examples usually improve following the administration of home care or minimally invasive therapies. But advanced conditions might need more aggressive treatment, like surgery.
Non-Surgical Treatment Options
Commonly prescribed non-surgical treatment options include:
- Rest – Your doctor might instruct you to avoid arm or wrist-bending activities until injured soft tissues heal. Depending upon your case’s severity, you may be required to curtail or eliminate such efforts for several weeks to many months.
- Bracing – Occasionally, movement-restricting devices prove beneficial. Elbow braces prevent damaged tissues from unnecessary movements and often speed up healing.
- Over-The-Counter Drugs – Over-the-counter inflammation and pain-reducing drugs may ease your discomfort. Medications commonly used for this purpose are known as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
- Steroid Injections – Corticosteroids often reduce injury-inducing inflammation. They are injected into your injured elbow.
- Physical Therapy – Moderate to advanced cases may need physical therapy. A physical therapist creates exercise programs specifically designed to strengthen your elbow, wrist, and forearm muscles.
Longstanding or severe instances of tennis elbow may need surgical intervention. Procedures commonly performed include:
- Tenotomy – During this minimally invasive undertaking, surgeons remove and resect portions of damaged tendons.
- Arthroscopic Surgery – Surgeons use an arthroscope to remove damaged tissue.
- Tendon Repair – Injured tendons are removed and replaced with healthy soft tissues from another part of your body or a donor.
Simple, uncomplicated cases often improve within several weeks. Moderate to severe examples might take months to heal fully. This is particularly true of cases requiring surgery, which often need many weeks of inactivity followed by an extended period of physical therapy.
You can lessen your risk of tennis elbow by practicing preventative measures such as:
- Stretching – Your risk may decrease simply by stretching before performing arm-bending or wrist-twisting movements. This action loosens muscles and soft tissues, better preparing them to withstand forceful or awkward motions.
- Building Up Muscle Strength – Strengthen your wrist and arm muscles as stronger muscles and soft tissues are less prone to injury. Physicians and exercise specialists offer weightlifting as one way to achieve this goal.
- Using The Proper Equipment – Utilizing the proper equipment during leisure or professional activities places less strain on your wrist and arm. For example, tennis players might reduce their probability of injury by using well-strung or newer, lighter, and easy-to-grip rackets.
- Obtaining Routine Medical Checkups – You should never ignore wrist, arm, or elbow pain. Discomfort typically suggests the presence of some type of injury. Ignoring the discomfort or trying to play through it can worsen existing damages, need more aggressive treatment, and cause extended recovery periods.
- Easing Into Activities Gradually – You should proceed cautiously when beginning any new physical fitness program. Quickly jumping into any strenuous action increases your risk of injury. Consult with your doctor or exercise specialist before starting any new exercise regimen.
If you think you have tennis elbow or an elbow injury, call for an appointment with Dr. Howard or Dr. Arnold to check it.