What is it?
Tennis Elbow (Lateral Epicondylitis) is a condition caused by overusing the elbow. The condition got the name “tennis elbow” because those participating in racquet sports tend to suffer from the condition the most; however, anyone who moves their elbow in repetitive movements can experience tennis elbow. The combination of repetition and weight lifting contributes to the overuse of the muscles and tendons that cause Tennis Elbow.
With tennis elbow, the tendons that join the forearm muscles on the outside of the elbow are inflamed. The forearm muscles and tendons become damaged from overuse — repeating the same motions again and again. This leads to pain and tenderness on the outside of the elbow.
The condition tends to show itself the most in those that are 30-50 years of age, though anyone can get it if they repeatedly use their elbow in the same ways.
Symptoms usually start gradually, beginning as a mild pain that slowly worsens over time. Common signs and symptoms include pain or burning on the outer part of the elbow and a weakened grip. Most people experience it only in their dominant arm, though it can happen in both arms.
When diagnosing the condition, most doctors will use a variety of tests from, including tests that involve physical movement to imaging tests that include X-rays, MRI scans, and nerve tests to rule out other conditions.
When treating Tennis Elbow, many doctors will start with physical therapy that teaches stretches to relieve the pain, as well as, recommending a certain period of rest, usually several weeks of reduced activity. If you take part in a racquet sport, your doctor may also suggest you have your equipment checked for proper fit. Stiffer racquets and looser-strung racquets often can reduce the stress on the forearm, which means that the forearm muscles do not have to work as hard. If you use an oversized racquet, changing to a smaller head may help prevent symptoms from recurring.
Other nonsurgical treatments include anti-inflammatory medications, braces, steroidal shots, and extracorporeal shock wave therapy. Roughly 80-95% of people suffering from Tennis Elbow see success with these nonsurgical treatments, eliminating the need for surgery.
Should surgery be needed, there are several options, all of which involve removing diseased muscle and reattaching healthy muscle back to the bone. Most are same-day, outpatient procedures. Like with any surgery, there are some potential risks including infection, nerve and blood vessel damage, loss of strength and flexibility, and need for further surgery. Full rehabilitation after the surgery generally requires 4-6 months with an 80-90% success rate.
More recently the use of Platelet Rich Plasma Therapy or PRP has been investigated for effectiveness in treating a variety of injuries including tennis elbow. PRP is a preparation developed from a patient’s own blood. It contains a high concentration of proteins called growth factors that are very important in the healing of injuries. Most have shown promise in being effective, but more tests and research must be conducted to measure PRP’s effectiveness.
This article is brought to you by Dr. Brandon Downs. Dr. Downs can help you understand your elbow pain. Find Dr.Downs at:
Hughston Clinic Orthopaedics, Centennial Medical Center in the Physician’s Park Building 2400 Patterson Street Suite 300, Nashville, Tn 37203 (615) 342-6300 Hughston.com
Orthopaedic Specialists, 415 Henslee Drive in the Creekside Center, Dickson, Tn 37055
(615) 375-8287, Orthopaedicspecialists.com