The form of tendinitis that affects the tendons on the outside of your elbow joint is called lateral epicondylitis or, more commonly, tennis elbow. Lateral epicondylitis earned its breezier nickname because about half of tennis players eventually develop the painful condition. However, tennis elbow actually affects 1%-3% of adults per year, whether or not they play tennis.
Tennis elbow is usually caused by a damaged and inflamed extensor carpi radialis brevis tendon. The pain and inflammation make it difficult to lift or grasp objects. Tennis also makes it impossible to play the sport or perform the repetitive activity that caused it. Tennis elbow causes symptoms such as:
Depending on the severity of the tennis elbow, sports medicine specialists address it with various nonsurgical and surgical methods. You may benefit from rest, bracing, and painkillers alone. Or you may require surgical reconstruction with tendon grafts.
Kellie K. Middleton, MD, is an orthopedic specialist in Lawrenceville, Georgia, and a former professional athlete. Once you recover from tennis elbow, she doesn’t want you to suffer from its pain and disability again. Following are Dr. Middleton’s tips on how to keep your extensor carpi radialis brevis safe from further injury, inflammation, and pain.
You’re probably eager to return to your game or into the activity that first caused your tennis elbow. However, it’s important to slow down and take the time you need to warm up your joint and the muscles supporting it to avoid another injury.
First, warm up your entire body by gently stretching or jogging. Then, actually warm up your arm by bathing it in warm water or treating it with warm compresses. Next, gently perform exercises that stretch and strengthen the muscles, tendons, and ligaments around your elbow, such as:
With your forearm on a table or on your thigh — palm up — touch your thumb to each finger, one at a time. Repeat 20 times. Repeat with the other hand.
With forearms on your thighs, palms up, make light fists. Move your hands in slow circles 20 times. Repeat in the opposite direction.
Straighten one arm in front of you, palm up. With your other hand, grasp the fingers of the extended arm and pull them toward your body. Hold for 15 seconds, release. Repeat up to five times on each arm.
Warming up both arms ensures they both stay safe during your work or game.
The stronger your arm muscles are, the less likely you are to tear or stretch another tendon or ligament. Weight-bearing and resistance exercises are the best choices for building muscles to keep your joints safe.
However, if you play a sport or do manual labor, avoid strengthening sessions on a “work day.” Your muscles need to rest between times of extreme stress. Take a break for a day after a game or repetitive labor, and then work with a coach or trainer to build strength.
A physical therapist can evaluate how you make the moves in your game, job, or hobby. They then make recommendations that improve your dynamics and keep you safer. Working with a sports medicine specialist, physical therapist, and coach means you build your strength safely, improve the efficiency of your movements, and prevent injury.
During training, practice, or on the job, wear an elbow brace or a splint if you notice that your elbow or arm feels weak. A brace compresses your tendons to help them support your joint.
You can also wear a brace or splint at night. This allows your tendons to rest and repair to work more efficiently the next day.
Don't forget to cool down afterward if you’ve used your arm to swing rackets or hammers. Repeat your warm-up exercises during your cool-down period. Be sure to stretch your fingers, wrist, and arm to avoid pulled and aching muscles.
If you notice changes in your grip and strength or start to feel elbow or arm pain again, don’t delay seeking treatment. When you ignore tennis elbow, it tends to worsen and may eventually need surgical repair. Early intervention can stop the progression of the injury and allow you to focus on nonsurgical treatments instead.
Do you have tennis elbow or elbow pain, or do you want to prevent them? Get treatment or prevention tips by contacting our knowledgeable team by phone or the online form today.