Do I have Tennis Elbow if my elbow hurts? 

by | Feb 21, 2022 | Blog

Do I have Tennis Elbow if my elbow hurts? 

Not all elbow pain is tennis elbow. Around 1 to 3 % of the population gets affected by tennis elbow every year. About 50% of the population who plays tennis suffers from tennis elbow.

What is Tennis Elbow (Lateral Epicondylitis)?

Tennis elbow is a painful condition caused by overuse of the “extensor” muscles that connect the forearm to the outer side of the elbow in your arm and forearm, particularly where the tendons attach to rounded projections of bone on the outside or of the elbow. The pain is more with gripping and lifting any objects on the affected hand. 

Signs and Symptoms

Symptoms of tennis elbow develop gradually over a period of weeks or months as a result of repeated or forceful use of the wrist, hand, and elbow. Any repeated movement on the wrist and elbow can cause tennis elbow. Not necessarily tennis elbow affects only tennis players, it can also affect people who do a lot of computer work with improper ergonomics, people who decided to do DIY paint jobs at home and do a lot of wrist movement, Grocery store cashier who required to carry many grocery bags or in spring season when someone is doing a lot of gardening which their body is not used to. 

Symptoms may include:

  • Pain that radiates into your forearm and wrist

  • Difficulty doing common tasks, such as turning a doorknob or holding a coffee cup

  • Difficulty with gripping activities

  • Increased pain when you use your wrist and hand for lifting objects, opening a jar, or gripping something tightly, such as a knife and fork

  • Stiffness in the elbow

  • Weakness in the forearm, wrist, or hand

Can this injury or condition be prevented?

Yes, you can prevent injury before it happens. The most important thing is the technique. First, we will talk about tennis players who play regular tennis and how they can prevent injury and then people who don`t play tennis but are still at risk of tennis elbow.

For Tennis Players remember three TTT, TECHNIQUE, TRAINING, AND TOOLS

Technique: Injury happens due to improper technique that puts more pressure on the tendon which leads to irritation on the tendon or micro tear. Your coach can really help with this issue. A coach can identify any wrong technique and train you to correct it before it becomes a habit during play.  simply have a consultation with a physical therapist to discuss proper techniques. How to hold a racket with a good grip? proper backstroke technique? release tight grip in between strokes to give rest to forearm muscles. 

Training: Staying fit helps to prevent tennis elbow and any other injury, Here are the four do`s that must be followed to prevent injury.

  • Cardio warm-up: Increase heart rate, improve circulation throughout the body, You need proper circulation before the game and warm up all muscles. 3 to 4 minutes of cardio exercise with increased intensity every minute. Start with skipping, high marching in place, and shuffling. The goal is to increase heart rate. Your stiff joints will loosen up with cardiac warm-up. 

  • Stretching: Improving muscle length helps to prevent injury. The injury occurs when muscle and tendon are overstretched. Wrist extension is required during tennis games repeatedly and if you have tightness on forearm muscles that do not allow much wrist extension, that not only affects your game but increases the chance to create microtear on tendons which leads to tennis elbow. Basic wrist, elbow, and shoulder stretching are required before the game.

  • Muscle activation and Range of motion (ROM): Our body compensates for movement when it needs it. For example, limited thoracic rotation can lead to requiring extra force through the forearm during a shot. Identify a limited range of motion in the body and work on it before the game, using a foam roller or lacrosse ball helps to release tension and activate muscles. 

  • Shadowing: It simply means to mimic repeated movement that is required in-game, shadow technique helps to improve speed, power, endurance, footwork, and techniques. During shadowing, the coach can also identify the wrong technique and correct it to practice more. Shadowing also helps with muscle memory that can improve games as well. 

These are the most training methods to prevent tennis elbow injury.

Tools: Tools mean things required during play like a racket. Double wrapping handles reduce stress on forearm muscles, also it balances the racket that creates proper force distribution, String tension on the racket also affects force distribution, high tension on strings gives you more control but also impacts more on the forearm. 

One can also wear a tennis elbow strap, tennis elbow strap is another tool that can help to prevent injury. 

These are the suggestions for tennis players but now let’s talk about people who don’t play tennis but are still more prone to get tennis elbow.

Following are the tips :

Avoid repeated movement: if your occupation requires repetitive wrist movement, there are two things you can do, one tries to find alternative ways you do your job and the second one is to strengthen your forearm muscles and do regular stretching. Avoid any excessive wrist extension to prevent injury, nowadays people work a lot on the computer and poor mouse or keypad position can cause wrist hyperextension that can over time lead to tennis elbow.

Rest and ice: If you are feeling discomfort on the elbow you want to consider rest on the elbow, people ignore small aches and discomfort that can lead to more chronic pain, ice really helps to heal any micro-injury to the tendon.

Modify daily activities: Identify the movement that may cause your injury like carrying grocery bags or briefcases, gardening work, computer setting. Once you identify the movement then modify the activity to avoid injury to the elbow, for example, use a shoulder strap to lift a briefcase, adjust the computer workspace so your elbow and wrist are neutral. 

How Can Physical Therapy Help?

First 24 to 28 hours after acute onset of pain, treatment includes:

  • Resting the arm by avoiding certain activities and modifying the way you do others

  • Using 10-20 minute ice treatments

  • Using elastic bandages or supports to take the pressure off of the painful muscles

Your physical therapist can design a specific treatment program to speed your recovery.  There will very likely be exercises and other treatments that you will be expected to do at home.  Your physical therapist also might use special physical therapy treatments to help relieve pain, such as manual therapy, special exercises, ice or heat treatments, or both.

For a case of tennis elbow that has occurred within the past few weeks – it is important to treat it as early as possible.  Left untreated, the tennis elbow may become chronic which means it lasts for months and sometimes even years.  

Improve your ability to move

Your physical therapist may use manual therapy to enable your joints and muscles to move more freely with less pain.

Improve your strength

Insufficient muscle strength can lead to tennis elbow.  Sometimes the weakness is in the muscles of the wrist and forearm.  In many cases. The problem stems from the weakness of the supporting muscles.  You might find that it is necessary to improve your overall level of fitness to help manage your elbow condition.  

Physical therapists prescribe several types of exercises during recovery from tennis elbow:

  • Early in the treatment, when the pain is most intense, your therapist may recommend passive exercises in which your wrist and elbow are moved without the use of your muscles.

  • As your symptoms improve, you can move the wrist and elbow actively without assistance.

  • As the muscles become stronger and the symptoms have lessened, you will be able to begin using weights or resistance bands to further increase your strength.  The amount of weight will need to be carefully monitored to make sure you continue to progress and avoid re-injuring your muscles.

Use your muscles the right way

Your therapist can help you to identify your improper joint and muscle movement and work on correcting it so you don’t get that same injury again in the future. 

Return to your activities

Depending on your goal, a therapist can provide conditioning training to get back to your activities. Training will be different based on your goal, for example, training players required different strengthening exercises and functional training vs if someone got a tennis elbow due to gardening. It is very important to follow up with proper training before returning to activities to prevent future injury. 

The best advice is to take the tennis elbow seriously when it starts hurting and act on it before it becomes chronic and lasts for months or years.