Tennis Elbow: symptoms, causes and treatment

What is tennis elbow?

Lateral epicondylitis, also known as tennis elbow, is the overuse of the muscle tendon on the outside region of the elbow.

It is a common health condition among individuals who perform repetitive movements of the arms, such as people who work as tradesmen, cooks and waiters. As the name suggests, it is also common with athletes that place repetitive stress onto their elbow, such as pitchers, tennis players and rock climbers.

What are some of the signs and symptoms of tennis elbow?

  • Slow onset of pain which gets worse and worse especially during repetitive movement at work or in sports
  • Pain on the outside elbow, either on the muscle, but potentially around the bone as well
  • Pain when bending your wrist backwards or forwards
  • Painful when gripping and holding objects in your hand
  • Some people would experience elbow pain at sleep/at night
  • In some severe cases, some people also finds the pain radiate and affect their wrist and hand

What does managing this condition look like?

An intervention would likely depend on the person, the timeline of the symptoms, the severity of the symptoms, and the activity goals of the individual.  Generally speaking, as tennis elbow is an overuse injury, load management that include reducing aggravating activities or developing more effective pacing strategies to help manage symptoms better and to continue to promote tolerable activity. 

If the condition is severe enough, a medical practitioner might consider anti-inflammatory medication.  Other interventions such as elbow braces or splints might be used especially during painful activities such as during work situations.  However, these modalities need to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis and might only help with pain modification during the activity. The main premise to recover from this issue is to gradually develop the capacity of the arm to handle the painful activities over time. In the majority of cases, the condition will also need to take its course of time as natural healing takes place (just like a lot of other health conditions). On that note, it might help to set up your own expectation that it is quite common for this condition to persist for more than a few weeks or months.

When to go seek treatment?

If you start noticing symptoms around your elbows and if it starts affecting your daily life activities, it would be best to go and see your medical practitioner or physiotherapist for an early diagnosis.  It is recommended seeking advice as soon as possible, as an early intervention would most likely have an ideal outcome and may potentially have the least impact on a person’s quality of life. The help of medical practitioners and health professionals in this space is to help advise the patient of what activities to temporarily modify, how to manage symptoms during the day, how to manage work and sport activities, as well as providing reassurance and advice on the trajectory of the condition.

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