Sunny days (sometimes!), short nights, sandals…. It can only mean one thing: it’s nearly time for Wimbledon! If you’re a tennis afficianado, the start of the lawn tennis season is probably a cause for excitement. You might even find yourself inspired to take up your racket and get out onto the court yourself.
But if you are planning to play a few matches this summer it’s worth watching out for tennis elbow, which is a common and hugely painful condition that could keep you off the court for the rest of the season if you’re affected.
What is tennis elbow?
The first thing to say is that tennis elbow doesn’t only affect people who play tennis. Anyone who does a lot of repetitive gripping movements is at risk. The condition commonly affects assembly line workers, chefs, construction workers and gardeners, as well as people who play ball sports.
What happens when we grip an object is that we pull our wrists back slightly to increase the tension in the fingers we are using to grip. As we do this, our muscles in the forearm contract. Over time, repeated contractions of the muscle can cause inflammation in the tendons which attach the muscle to the bone at the elbow joint. This causes pain around the bony bump at the side of the elbow.
Symptoms of tennis elbow
Tennis elbow, or epicondylitis, causes pain around the outside of the elbow. You may experience pain just below the bend of your elbow when you lift or bend your arm, grip small objects or twist your forearm, for example when opening a jar. It might be difficult to extend your arm.
Tennis elbow prevention
It can be difficult to prevent tennis elbow, particularly if your job involves repetitive movements or you are taking part in regular sports training. However, there are some things you can do to avoid putting strain on the tendons of your elbow:
- Warm up and stretch your arm muscles before playing a sport that involves repetitive arm movements. A coach can help you to improve your technique so you are less likely to damage your tendons
- Use a lightweight racket or tools and opt for a larger grip size to help avoid straining your tendons.
- Wear a tennis elbow splint when you are using your arm. Talk to us about the best type of brace or splint to use.
- Exercises to strengthen the muscles of your forearm can help to prevent tennis elbow. A physiotherapist can recommend exercises to build up your forearm muscles.
- Try to spread the load to the larger muscles of your shoulder and upper arm. A physiotherapist can show you the best ways to do this.
- If you do develop tennis elbow, stop doing the activity that is causing you pain until the tendon has had time to heal.
Treatment of tennis elbow
Tennis elbow will improve on its own if you rest your arm however there are treatments you can use to speed up your recovery.
- An ice pack held against your elbow several times a day for a few minutes at a time can help to ease the pain, as can over the counter painkillers.
- You may also want to take anti-inflammatories to reduce inflammation in the tendon.
- Physiotherapy can be used both to prevent tennis elbow and to relieve persistent pain.
- In some cases surgery might be needed to remove damaged parts of the tendon.
- However, nine out of 10 cases of tennis elbow have fully recovered within a year.
Diagnosing tennis elbow can be done via X-Ray or MRI scan and is the sure way to understand the extent of the condition. If you have been feeling moderate to severe pain in your elbow, it is best to get it checked as soon as possible.
Or, if you have been feeling even mild pain in your elbow for some time, an accurate diagnosis is essential to ensure the symptoms don’t worsen over time.
For access to expert radiology advice in a range of locations, do get in touch with the W27 team today,