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Tennis Elbow

“It can’t be tennis elbow, I don’t play tennis!”

Tennis elbow is a painful condition affecting the outside of the elbow, and the muscles of the forearm. It is a fairly common condition, affecting up to 3% of the population, however, only about 5% of cases are linked to tennis. It is most common between the ages of 40 and 60, and usually affects the dominant arm.

Tennis elbow is a repetitive strain injury in which the extensor muscles of the forearm are overused. This leads to small tears developing in the tendon of one of the muscles, close to the bony lump (lateral epicondyle) on the outside of the elbow. These tears result in localised inflammation, and put extra stress on the rest of the arm, making it very painful to perform certain actions.

Although its name suggests that the condition is caused by playing tennis, many other work or recreational activities involving repetitive arm, elbow or wrist movements, can also cause repeated strain on the extensor tendons of the elbow. These include playing some musical instruments eg violin or guitar, excessive playing on games consoles, and prolonged periods of decorating, gardening, carpentry, DIY (especially using a screwdriver), or intensive housework.

The most common symptom of tennis elbow is pain and tenderness on the outside of the elbow, and in the extensor muscles of the forearm. There may also be some wrist pain, and elbow stiffness, making it difficult to fully straighten the arm. The elbow pain may increase until the elbow becomes too painful to touch.

The pain is usually worse on lifting the arm up, bending the elbow, rotating the forearm eg turning a door handle, opening a jar, or pouring water from a kettle. Grip may also be affected, making it painful to hold a cup or shake hands.

The symptoms may develop immediately after performing a specific activity, or gradually over a period of days or weeks, as a result of periods of unaccustomed intensive exercise or activity, such as lifting heavy boxes when moving house or playing a lot of sport on holiday. Alternatively in some people the condition develops for no apparent reason, and may not be linked to any particular event or injury.

Tennis elbow is usually a self-limiting condition and will often get better without treatment. However, more stubborn cases may require some sort of intervention.

  1. Try to avoid or modify activities that aggravate the pain, especially lifting, gripping or twisting movements.

  2. Apply an ice pack 2-3 times a day for 10 minutes to help calm any inflammation.

  3. Wearing a tennis elbow support to compress just below the elbow reduces the strain on the tendon attachments on the lateral epicondyle and allows them to rest.

  4. Chiropractors can help to speed up the recovery time by using massage, trigger point therapy and acupuncture to the affected muscles, mobilisation or manipulation of the elbow joints, or applying kinesio-tape to the affected muscles. We can also advise on stretching and strengthening exercises when it is appropriate to do them. In most cases this works very well.

If the tennis elbow doesn’t respond favourably to treatment, or if the pain is severe, your GP may suggest a steroid injection into the painful area, or botox injections into the affected muscles. If conservative options still fail to work, surgery may be advisable.

For more information on how Guildford Chiropractic Centre can help you and your family, please contact the clinic.

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