By Kim Hansen PT, DPT, CCI
So you’ve had this nagging pain along the outside of your elbow, and you just can’t seem to shake it. Now it even hurts to hold your morning cup of coffee, much less attempt a backhand on the courts. Spring is here, which means before you know it, tennis, softball, and baseball seasons will be starting. You’ll need your arm ready to go. You’ve checked with Dr. Google and all signs are pointing towards the dreaded “tennis elbow.” Here’s the rundown on what this injury is all about, and how to treat the source of the pain.
What Is Tennis Elbow?
The medical term is actually lateral epicondylitis: a painful condition where the extensor tendons of your wrist and hand become overly tight and pull at their bony attachment on the lateral epicondyle of the elbow. This constant pulling creates an inflammatory and highly irritable state that leads to pain. This pain can even keep you from using your arm for the simplest tasks, such as pouring a glass of water or turning a door knob.
What Causes It?
Tennis elbow is caused by repetitive motions of the wrist and arm that overload the muscles in your forearm. People who are most at risk are those whose jobs or sports require repetitive arm This includes police officers, manual laborers such as plumbers, mechanics, and painters, and of course, tennis players.
Why Did I Get It?
One of the primary causes for tennis players is non-optimal form. However, there is another component that is often overlooked as a driving cause for this condition: neural tension or compression at some point in the nervous system. This could occur in the neck or cervical spine, the shoulder, the upper arm, or the elbow or forearm itself. This is a very important component to rule out in order to ensure that, once treated, this condition does not reoccur.
How Do I Fix It?
If it just started recently, and therefore is still in the acute stage (first 7 to 10 days), ice and rest can help to calm down the symptoms. However, these will not fix the root cause of the pain and it is very likely to come back at some point. Here’s the best approach to treating this condition: