What Is Tennis Elbow?
Also called lateral epicondylitis, tennis elbow is a serious condition that affects the elbows and is usually caused by overuse or traumatic injuries. Thus, it is not surprising that most tennis and racquet sports players are commonly afflicted with this condition. That is another reason why this condition is called ‘tennis elbow’. However, several sports besides tennis and other racquet sports can cause this condition.
Tennis elbow is defined as a severe inflammation of the tendons that connect the forearm muscles of the elbow. These muscles can be damaged and injured by overuse or injuries. Players are likely to develop tennis elbow if they repeat the same motion repeatedly over a short period of time. That is why tennis players are among the most affected, as they constantly engage their elbows while playing a game.
Causes Of Tennis Elbow
- Overuse of forearm muscle
As discussed above, tennis elbow is caused by an overuse of the forearm muscle. According to recent studies in surgical science, tennis elbow is often caused due to a sudden damage in a specific forearm muscle called the extensor carpi radialis brevis (ECRB). This muscle is one of the most important constituents of the forearm muscle, as they help in stabilizing the wrist when the elbow is straight and in motion.
We can again take the example of tennis here, as the stabilizing of the extensor carpi radialis brevis muscle usually occurs while playing a tennis stroke. When a player overuses his or her extensor carpi radialis brevis muscle, it becomes weakened and the tendons are damaged and torn. This causes severe pain, swelling and inflammation.
The extensor carpi radialis brevis muscle is also considered prone to wear and tear because of its position in the elbow. Frequent bending and straightening of the elbow causes the ECRB muscle to rub against bones and tendons. It can further cause a wear and tear of the ECRB muscle, thus causing symptoms of a tennis elbow.
- Physical activities
It is a misconception that athletes and sports persons are the only ones whom are affected with tennis elbow injuries. In truth, tennis elbow may affect anybody that engages in constant physical activities on a daily basis. People whom engage in strenuous physical activities are highly susceptible to tennis elbow injuries. These people use their forearm muscle more often than other muscles and thus create problems for their elbow’s tendons and joints.
Professionals who utilize their forearm muscles the most are carpenters, butchers, plumbers, painters, cooks, drivers because of their high intensity physical work. Weight lifters are also prone to developing tennis elbow because of their overuse of the forearm muscle.
- The age factor
Although tennis elbow usually affects people within the age group of 30-50 years, this condition can affect anybody and anytime. People whom utilize their forearm muscles excessively are the most vulnerable to tennis elbow fractures. Sports persons develop this injury with improper techniques, injuries, poor equipment and other risk-oriented factors.
8 Best Treatment For Tennis Elbow
In the present scenario, the number of people suffering from tennis elbow has increased much more than a few years ago. Despite the advent of technological developments and better equipments in sports, athletes are still suffering from the vicious complications caused by tennis elbow. Therefore, doctors have created several treatment options to tackle this severe condition efficiently. In most cases, treatment for tennis elbow involves a coordinated team approach. Primary doctors, physical therapists, and, in some cases, surgeons work together to provide the most effective care.
- Conventional Pain Relief Methods
Conventional pain relief methods should always be kept handy by players during a match. This is because you never know when you may require them to combat a painful condition. Most physiologists, trainers and sports persons prefer ice as the perfect choice to relieve pain, especially most effective against tennis elbow injuries.
Therefore, it is advisable to use an ice-pack if you are suffering from a serious elbow pain, as it may turn out to be a tennis elbow injury. Ice-packs should be used intermittently while playing a match and it should be applied throughout the day to minimize any potential problems related to the elbow.
Doctors and physiologists also recommended anti-inflammatory painkiller medicines like ibuprofen to treat pain in the elbow. If you are suffering from tennis elbow, using an anti-inflammatory painkiller medicine will help in reducing the pain and bring instant relief to the affected forearm muscles. Besides painkiller tablets, anti-inflammatory painkillers are also available as gels and cream that you can rub on the affected region to ease the pain.
A major benefit of using these gels and creams is that they cause fewer side effects than tablets like ibubrofen and its contemporaries. These painkillers are easily available at drug stores. However, you should take prescription medicine in case of severe tennis elbow.
Physiotherapy is highly recommended as one of the best treatment for tennis elbows. In fact, it had a positive track record over the years in treating serious tennis elbow injuries. Several techniques exist in physiotherapy and the physiotherapist would recommend the best methods based on individual cases.
Some of the commonly used physiotherapy techniques include massage, ultrasound therapy, laser therapy and other muscle exercises to heal the affected tennis elbow. However, the supremacy and efficacy of any of these techniques over others is not yet documented.
- Supports (Splints and Straps)
Special, custom-made supports are available for the treatment of tennis elbow. These supports often come as straps and splints that can be used to support the affected elbow. With the growing increase of tennis elbow cases among sportsperson and other professionals, special elbow armbands and bandages have been created to assist the locomotion of the forearm muscles.
Although this is not a permanent cure for tennis elbow, it certainly helps in protecting and supporting the damaged elbow muscles and tendons. Besides, it also helps to prevent any further complications that may develope into a serious condition. Wrist splints are also highly recommended for relieving pain in the forearm muscles of the elbow. The symptoms of tennis elbow are more likely to recede if supports are used alongside physiotherapy.
- Steroid Injection
The aforementioned methods of treating tennis elbow are foolproof and effective. However, if they do not work in your case that means that the severity of your tennis elbow is much higher than what you had anticipated. Nevertheless, you can still feel hopeful, as there are other effective methods that can help in alleviating your pain. One of the most preferred methods is using steroid injections to reduce the pain and increase stability in the forearm muscles.
- Shock Wave Therapy
Along with steroid injections, shock wave therapy is also enjoying a lot of attention among doctors for treating serious tennis elbow cases. The shock wave therapy utilizes high-energy sonic waves to treat cases of tennis elbow among sports persons and regular individuals.
In this therapy, a special sound wave device enables a torrent of high-energy sound waves to penetrate the skin around the affected region of the elbow. In serious conditions of tennis elbow, patients may be given a local anesthetic to numb their elbow’s veins, as the intensity of the sound waves could be painful to tolerate under normal circumstances.
Although shock wave therapy is considered a safe treatment for tennis elbow, doctors are yet unaware of its efficacy in all cases. This is because this treatment is still a relatively new method of dealing with cases of tennis elbow and the available research is very scant. However, this should not deter you from opting for a shock wave therapy, as it could well turn out the best treatment for curing your tennis elbow. Consult an expert therapist before venturing in this domain.
Lack of available research also obscures the probable side effects and complications that may arise due to a shock wave therapy. However, the available data suggests that some patients may experience short-term inflammation and swelling in the treated area during the therapy. There is a small chance of side effects, including short-term reddening of your skin, swelling of the area that is treated and pain during the procedure.
- Autologous Blood Injection
Autologous blood injections are preferred only when the aforementioned treatment for tennis elbow fail to treat the problem or relieve painadequately. Although the efficacy of this method is not highly documented, many doctors have used it to treat patients of tennis elbow. However, you should discuss the pros and cons of this treatment with your doctor before opting for it. In this procedure, blood samples are extracted from your body and subsequently injected into the damaged area of the forearm muscles in your elbow.
According to doctors, this method helps in healing and relaxing the affected tendon muscles. Since it is a painful procedure, doctors use a local anesthetic before commencing with the blood injection. As the effects of this treatment are not properly documented, doctors may use several treatment sessions to ensure that the tennis elbow heals adequately. You may also have to wear support splints or an elbow guard after this blood injection. This treatment is usually followed by physiotherapy.
- Botulinum Toxin A Injection
Besides the lesser-used analogous blood injection, doctors also use the Botulinum toxin A injection to treat tennis elbow. Unlike analogous blood injection, the efficacy of Botulinum toxin A injection is well documented. This injection helps in healing the pain in the forearm muscles of the tennis elbow. It is generally recommended when the experienced symptoms of are severe enough for surgical treatments.
Botulinum Toxin is commonly known as Botox, and it is widely used to treat wrinkles and other signs of aging. However, it is also an effective method of treating tennis elbow injuries. A small amount of this chemical is injected into the affected muscle, which helps in blocking the nerve signals to avoid muscle contraction. This leads to temporary paralysis of the muscles and thus it helps in reducing the pain that is caused by tennis elbow.
- Surgical Treatment
If none of the aforementioned treatments worked in curing your tennis elbow condition, then you are only left with the last option, which is tennis elbow surgery. If symptoms of tennis elbow continue to persist despite taking medications, physiotherapy treatments and other methods, then it suggests that your complication is acute and it can only be treated using surgery.
Surgeons often recommend surgery as the last option in cases where the symptoms do not recede even after following the requisite treatment methods. The motive of the surgical method is to remove the damaged tendon that was causing pain and discomfort. This surgery is recommended to very few people who have not found any relief through conventional treatment for tennis elbow.
Although a wide number of surgical methods exist for the treatment for tennis elbow, their data is not widely available for establishing concrete facts on the efficacy of these methods. However, there is hardly any available data that supports or discourages tennis elbow surgeries. In fact, most people are able to return to their previous activities after a tennis elbow surgery. In such cases, these people who have recovered from a tennis elbow injury are usually advice to change any of their previous sports-playing technique, equipment, or other activity that may linked to tennis elbow pain.