Referred to as lateral epicondylitis in a clinical setting, tennis elbow is a fairly common condition that can make life difficult. For instance, it can reduce your quality of life and independence by causing pain when you twist your forearm to open a jar or door. At Phoenix Regenerative Medicine in Scottsdale, AZ, we are passionate about helping our clients treat their orthopedic conditions and restore their quality of life. Read on to learn more about it and how it’s treated.
What Causes Tennis Elbow?
There are many potential causes of tennis elbow. Usually, this condition is caused by using your forearm too repetitively or during strenuous activity. However, this condition can also develop due to knocking or banging your elbow against something hard.
Strenuous activity can lead to the development of this condition because forearm strain results in inflammation and tiny tears. When these form near your lateral epicondyle, it can cause elbow pain that radiates down your arm. Sometimes, this pain is only triggered by bending or lifting your arm. However, gripping writing utensils or other small objects can also trigger pain.
What Activities Most Commonly Cause Lateral Epicondylitis?
People often develop this condition after years of playing racket sports with less-than-perfect technique. However, sports that involve throwing, like discus or javelin, can also put the forearm under an excessive amount of strain. Lateral epicondylitis is also common in violinists and other musicians who bend their elbows repeatedly for long periods of time.
Frequent use of hand tools, like scissors, screwdrivers, or gardening shears can also lead to the development of this condition. Moreover, you may develop this condition if you use tools for plumbing, bricklaying, or decorating. This condition is also commonly caused by engaging in activities that require fine, repetitive movements of the hand and wrist, like crocheting, typing, or playing video games with a controller.
What Are the Risk Factors for Developing This Condition?
Despite its colloquial name, playing tennis is by no means the only risk factor of developing this condition. In fact, only five out of every 100 people with this condition develop it because they regularly play a racket sport. Professions that call for repetitive wrist and arm motions, like carpentry, painting, and plumbing drastically increase your risk of developing this condition. Moreover, your risk of developing this condition is greater if you are a butcher or chef.
What Can I Do To Reduce My Risk of Developing This Condition?
It can be hard to prevent lateral epicondylitis if you have a job that demands a lot from your forearms. However, if a hobby, like tennis, squash, or badminton, is causing you elbow pain, you can reduce the likelihood of developing lateral epicondylitis by getting an expert to help you with proper form. Warming up and cooling down properly before and after the activity responsible for your pain can also help.
When Should I See a Doctor?
If an activity, like chopping down a tree or painting your bathroom, is causing you pain, stop doing that activity. If your elbow pain does not subside after a few days of rest, schedule an appointment with a regenerative medicine specialist. We will check your elbow for tenderness and swelling and test the functionality of your elbow. Even if you don’t have lateral epicondylitis, we will diagnose your condition and tailor a treatment plan that works for you.
How Is This Condition Diagnosed?
Lateral epicondylitis is usually diagnosed with a physical examination. We will also discuss your medical history to determine if you have this condition. Sometimes, though, imaging tests are also necessary to get an accurate diagnosis. For instance, depending on your symptoms, you may need to get an X-ray to verify that you don’t have arthritis in your elbow.
MRIs are another very helpful diagnostic tool. Magnetic resonance imaging can show us how severely your tendons are damaged. In addition to helping diagnose the condition, an MRI can help us determine the best treatments for you. Moreover, electromyography (EMG) may be recommended to rule out the possibility that your pain is caused by nerve damage.
How Is This Condition Treated?
Treatment plans for this condition vary based on many factors, including the severity of the symptoms. If you are only experiencing mild discomfort, you may be able to alleviate symptoms through not participating in activities that trigger your discomfort and applying a cold compress to your elbow. If you attempt to use a cold compress to ease your symptoms, make sure you wrap the frozen pack in a towel. Don’t apply anything frozen directly to your skin.
It is also possible that you can ease your symptoms with OTC medications, like acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Usually, acetaminophen is taken for pain relief, and an NSAID is taken for the discomfort caused by inflammation. You also may benefit from seeing a certified masseuse or physical therapist to help provide you with comfort and improve your range of motion.
How Can Massage Therapy Help?
A deep tissue massage performed by a masseuse who is certified to perform this specific technique can improve tennis elbow symptoms by increasing circulation in the affected forearm. Furthermore, you can benefit from friction therapy reducing tendon tension.
What Exercises Can Help Me Improve My Symptoms?
The best exercises to ease tennis elbow symptoms depend on the symptoms you are experiencing. If you are concerned about losing grip strength, you can restore your strength with a simple soft object. Squeeze a small rubber ball or round piece of putty for 10 to 15 minutes in a row. This should be done two to three times daily for optimal results. Wrist curls are another effective way to help you improve your symptoms.
To perform a wrist curl, put your entire forearms flat across a table. Your palm should be facing upward. Across your palm, you should place an exercise band or weight for resistance. Use your empty hand to pull your wrist backward toward your torso. Then, over five seconds, return your wrist to its resting position. Next, hold the weight or exercise band in your hand and repeat the exercise. This should be done 10 times per set for three sets per day.
What Stretches Can Help Me Improve My Symptoms?
One of the best stretches to improve the symptoms of this condition is known as the downward wrist stretch. To begin performing this stretch, you should hold your arm straight away from your body and hold your hand with your other hand. From the starting position, bend your wrist slowly. It should be bent down and out a little until you can feel the stretch. This position should be held for 15 to 30 seconds and repeated four to nine times daily.
You can also benefit significantly from using a rubber band to stretch your fingers. Simply wrap a rubber band around your thumb and other digits, cupping your hand just a little bit. Then, spread your thumb and other digits apart gently. Next, bring them back together. For optimal relief, you should do three to six sets per day with 10 repetitions per set.
What If At-Home Remedies Don’t Help?
If at-home remedies aren’t providing you with sufficient relief, you don’t necessarily have to get surgery for effective results. When left untreated, a full recovery from lateral epicondylitis can take anywhere from six to 24 months. If you feel like you can’t stand your symptoms for this long, you should strongly consider PRP therapy. PRP therapy is a quick, effective treatment for this condition that is safe for most people.
It involves using a syringe to draw blood from your inner elbow, processing your blood, and injecting certain blood components into the affected area. PRP stands for platelet-rich plasma, and during the blood processing part of the treatment, your blood is run through a centrifuge for about five minutes. The centrifuge separates your blood components by mass, and the red and white blood cells are discarded.
Schedule Your Initial Consultation Today
Tennis elbow is usually caused by forearm overuse or overstrain. However, striking the outside of your elbow can also cause you to develop this condition. There are a number of risk factors for developing this condition, including playing racquet sports and working certain jobs. Contact us today at Phoenix Regenerative Medicine in Scottsdale, AZ, to schedule your initial consultation and discover what you can do to achieve quick, safe, and effective symptom relief.