Your doctor may have told you that you have tennis elbow, even though you have never played tennis in your life. Sometimes medical issues are named after the people that most commonly get them, and that’s the case with tennis elbow as it’s estimated that up to 50% of tennis players will get tennis elbow at some point. But that doesn’t mean that only tennis players can get tennis elbow, as it’s also very common in non-tennis players such as laborers who use heavy tools, and those that engage in repetitive gripping or lifting tasks.
What is tennis elbow?
When most tendons get irritated they get inflamed causing tendonitis. Tennis elbow is a little different in that the tendon is not really inflamed, but a part of it wears out, almost like a frayed piece of rope. The tendon that wears out is one of the tendons that helps you lift your wrist up, also known as a wrist extensor tendon. The specific tendon is called the extensor carpi radialis brevis. This tendon attached on the outside of the elbow, and that is almost always where the pain is. So you might have pain when you try to lift your wrist up, or when you stretch it all the way down because those actions put direct stress on the frayed tendon.
What can I do about my tennis elbow?
Fortunately, most cases of tennis elbow go away on their own, with only 5% of people getting surgery. Unfortunately, it may take some time for all of your symptoms to disappear. The good news is that there are a few things you can do to get better. The first line of treatment is to avoid the activities that cause you pain, use ice, and anti-inflammatories. If it’s not reasonable for you to avoid the activities that cause pain (like your job), don’t sweat it, there are a few things you can do. If you do happen to be a tennis player, then switching to a more flexible racket with a larger grip and lower string tension may help, as well as switching to a slower playing surface if possible. Stretching can also help; there are some good Youtube videos which can show you how to do this. There is also something called a tennis elbow brace which some find helpful, although others don’t. This brace basically takes the tension off of the extensor tendons and allows them to heal. If your elbow is really bothering you, then it may be worth seeing an orthopedic doctor who can confirm the diagnosis and possibly give you a steroid injection as well as a course of formal physical therapy.
I hope I was able to answer all of your questions about tennis elbow. If I wasn’t, and you have more questions, feel free to contact me.
-Written by Dr. Daniel Paull