“But I don’t play tennis!”
Tennis Elbow, A.K.A. lateral epicondylitis, is a painful and often difficult to treat condition that affects people in all walks of life (not just tennis players). Some sports that are associated with tennis elbow are CrossFit, weightlifting, tennis (of course), baseball and golf. You will notice I say “associated.” This is because these sports may not be entirely to blame for this malady. There are other factors such as poor technique, badly suited equipment, genetics, poor conditioning and also use of some types of medication.Activities other than sports can also cause tennis elbow. Usually these involve a large amount of unexpected physical activity. Examples are moving out of/into a house, lifting heavy suitcases while on vacation or spending a weekend working on the yard. Tennis elbow can also be an occupational hazard for people who work with their hands such as plumbers, carpenters, painters and farmers. People who work at desks are not immune either! Large amounts of repetitive keyboard work can also initiate tennis elbow.
Tennis elbow starts with damage to the tendon on the outside of the elbow, known as the common extensor origin. It’s referred to as “common” because it is where most of the muscles that extend the wrist and fingers are anchored. Damage in this area causes weakness and pain with gripping and lifting activities and can even interfere with lighter tasks such as driving or writing. Pain in the elbow at night is another common complaint with this condition.
Physical therapy for tennis elbow is based around the body’s’ own ability to heal itself. PT techniques stimulate the area around the tendon to create collagen fibers or scar tissue to repair the damaged tendon while at the same time conditioning the scar so that it forms a strong repair. Further muscular conditioning and exercise return the patient to their chosen sport or activities and prevent re-injury. Some techniques that work well on tennis elbow are ultrasound, electrical stimulation, IASTM and Dry Needling. Your therapist will also require you to do some homework in the form of stretching and strengthening exercises.
So how about prevention? Here are some tips to minimize the likelihood you will ever hear the words “tennis elbow.”
- Ease into any new activity. Give yourself time to learn good skills and your body time to condition to new activities.
- Get proper instruction. Hire a coach or a pro to teach you the right techniques and training programs, don’t try to re-invent the wheel.
- If your sport requires equipment (like a racquet) invest in the right equipment for your size, age and skill level.
About the Author: Paul Jones was born in Scotland and studies Physiotherapy at Teesside University in England before moving to the USA in 1990. He founded Jones Physical Therapy is 2005 and specializes in Outpatient Physical Therapy treatment of spinal and orthopedic problems. Paul has been a regular contributor of articles in the Times Picayune and has served as a policy advisor to the Louisiana Board of Physical Therapy Examiners.