Lateral epicondylitis, sometimes referred to as tennis elbow, is a painful condition that most often affects the outside of the elbow. However, the pain can radiate and affect other areas, including the forearm and wrist. At Phoenix Regenerative Medicine in Tempe, AZ, we understand how frustrating lower arm pain is, especially if it is so severe that functionality starts to fail. If you think you suffer from this condition, read on to discover the symptoms and much more.
What Are the Symptoms of Tennis Elbow?
This condition is most often accompanied by outer elbow pain or burning. However, if your condition goes untreated for too long, the pain may start to radiate down your forearm. It can even affect your wrist. Another symptom of this condition is pain when you bend or twist your arm. For example, you may experience a sudden pain when you pick up a bag of groceries or turn a doorknob. Other symptoms include:
- A loss of grip strength
- Stiffness when extending your arm
Note, while it is possible to suffer from this condition in both arms, most of the time, it only affects your dominant limb. If you suffer this injury at work because you repetitively use one arm to complete the same task, you may benefit from alternating the arms you use to complete the task. For example, if you always stock shelves with your right arm, stock one box of merchandise with your right arm. Then, stock one box of merchandise with your left arm.
How Is This Condition Diagnosed?
Before your condition is diagnosed, you will need to speak to a joint and tendon expert about your symptoms. You may find it helpful to make a list of activities that make your symptoms worse, like opening jars or turning keys in locks. An X-ray will be recommended if it is suspected that you have a broken bone or arthritis.
If tennis elbow is suspected based on your symptoms, a CT scan, magnetic resonance imaging test, or ultrasound may be recommended. These imaging tests can tell how severe the damage to your muscles and tendons is. They can also reveal where the damage is, ruling out or confirming golfer’s elbow. If compressed nerves are suspected, you may need to have an electromyograph to measure electrical activity in the nerves and muscles.
Do I Have Golfer’s Elbow?
Golfer’s elbow is sometimes referred to as medial epicondylitis, and it is not uncommon for people to confuse the two conditions. The primary difference between the two conditions is that golfer’s elbow affects the inside of the epicondyle tendon, not the outside. In other words, you may suffer from golfer’s elbow if you have pain or burning sensations inside your elbow.
Like with lateral epicondylitis, the pain can radiate down from the elbow, affecting the forearm and wrist. Also, it is not uncommon for this condition to affect only the dominant arm used in repetitive, strenuous motions. Another difference between lateral and medial epicondylitis is that the latter may be accompanied by numbness and tingling in the fingers.
How Is Tennis Elbow Treated?
In mild cases, this condition will resolve itself without treatment. However, if left untreated, the condition can worsen. It is ideal to rest for several weeks if you injure the tendons in your outer elbow, so they have plenty of time to heal. Whether you suffered this injury from golfing, bowling, playing tennis, or participating in another activity. Give it a break. If you were injured at work, talk to your supervisor about scaling back your job duties temporarily.
Taking NSAIDs is another effective treatment method, especially if you are experiencing inflammation or chronic pain. If over-the-counter NSAIDs aren’t strong enough for you, you may need to take prescription NSAIDs or get corticosteroid injections. If you don’t have bad pain and inflammation, but you are losing motor control, you may benefit from physical therapy targeting the muscles in your forearm. Finally, consider wearing a brace to support your tendons.
What Are the Potential Complications of This Condition?
To reiterate, in some cases, a loss of motor function can occur. This can affect your independence, especially if you need grip strength or the ability to extend your arm in front of your body to complete your job. However, in most cases, there are no severe consequences of not treating this condition. You may experience pain or discomfort that can’t be treated by OTC drugs, but you don’t need to worry about a complete loss of motor control.
How Long Does Recovery Usually Take?
There is no telling how long it will take you to heal from this condition. If you were injured at work and your job duties can’t be modified, it may take you six to 18 months to heal. If you are very anxious to heal as quickly as possible, you may benefit significantly from platelet-rich plasma (PRP) therapy injections.
On the other hand, if you were injured due to a sport and you stop playing that sport, it may only take you a few weeks to heal fully. Note that surgery is only required in five out of 100 cases. Typically, surgery is not recommended until non-invasive treatment methods have been tried for six to 12 months. If surgery is required, it can take up to 1.5 years post-op for the symptoms to disappear.
What Are the Risk Factors of Tennis Elbow?
Somewhere between one and three percent of Americans get lateral epicondylitis. The condition is not limited to professional tennis players. Age is a very significant risk factor for the development of this condition; it usually affects people who are between the ages of 30 and 50. Typically, this condition affects athletes who use their forearms, wrists, or hands vigorously and repetitively. You may have an increased risk if you competitively or recreationally:
- Play baseball
- Play softball
- Play tennis
- Play squash
- Play racquetball
- Play pickleball
It is worth noting, however, that it is not just athletes who can develop this condition. Certain occupations significantly increase the risk of developing this condition, too. For example, your risk of developing this condition is greater if you are a:
- Assembly line worker
- Auto mechanic
What Can I Do To Prevent This Problem From Occurring in the Future?
Once you’ve treated your tennis elbow, it’s important that you take steps to prevent it from recurring. One of the most important steps you can take to mitigate your risk of developing this condition again is to not push through the pain. As hard as it may be for your pride, it is vital that you listen to your body. When it is in pain, it is telling you that it needs a break. Ignoring your pain can result in such problems as torn tendons and other tendon damage.
Also, you may benefit from wearing an elbow brace. If you don’t want to wear an elbow brace, make sure that you at least stretch your arms and wrists before you start work or a sport that increases your risk of this type of injury. Furthermore, it is highly advisable to lift weights to strengthen your wrist and forearm muscles. Finally, make sure that your equipment is in good condition. For example, make sure your tennis racquet is neither stiff nor loose-strung.
When Should I See a Doctor?
You should see a doctor for your tennis elbow if it is seriously affecting your quality of life. For example, it is time to seek professional help if you can’t sleep or focus at work due to pain. It is also advisable to seek professional medical assistance if you are having trouble holding things that you once found light, extending your arm, or moving your arm in other directions. Furthermore, you should schedule an appointment if you notice:
- Bumps on your elbow
- Severe swelling
- A bulge on your elbow
The Bottom Line
The most common symptom of tennis elbow is pain on the outside of the elbow. However, other symptoms include wrist pain, forearm pain, and moderate-to-severe elbow swelling. Over time, if your condition is not treated, you could lose arm functionality. If you suspect you suffer from this condition, we’d love to help. Contact us now at Phoenix Regenerative Medicine in Tempe, AZ to schedule your initial consultation. We look forward to meeting you.