Tennis Elbow: Cause and Treatment
I know. You don’t even play tennis and you were diagnosed with tennis elbow. I have to say that in the 8 years of working in outpatient physical therapy, probably 20% of people with tennis elbow have actually developed it from playing tennis.
What is Tennis Elbow?
Tennis elbow is inflammation of a common tendon that is attached on the outside of the elbow. This tendon attaches to the group of muscles in your forearm which extend your wrist, as if you were using your hand to tell someone to STOP! (picture above).
Because of this anatomy, repetitive wrist extension can lead to tendonitis in the elbow, or small microtears of the tendon, called tendinosis.
If you play tennis, or know anything about it, a backhanded hit will cause wrist extension. Repetitive backhands can lead to tennis elbow...but in reality, anyone who holds their wrist extended for long periods of time (as with typing) or repetitively extends the wrist, can develop tennis elbow. More commonly, it is seen in people that spend hours on a computer, work with their hands overhead, paint, work as a cashier or hair stylist. I guess Typer's Elbow didn't sound as cool...
Here is a QUICK test:
Extend your wrist, and use your other hand to resist the backward movement of the hand (try to push your palm toward the floor).
Grip a towel 10 times with the wrist slightly extended.
Have pain? You just might have tennis elbow.
So what do you do about it? You might have read about stretches that are important, or maybe you were instructed to ice the elbow. A physician may even recommend anti-inflammatory medications or a cortisone injection for the elbow. Depending on the case, all of these suggestions may be appropriate, but you might be just chasing the symptoms and not addressing the true cause of your pain.
Repetitive motion should not cause pain, and if it does it’s because there is a breakdown somewhere in the kinetic chain. This is where a physical therapist comes into play. Does your wrist have enough flexibility? Can your forearm rotate the full amount that it should? Does your elbow straighten all the way? How do your shoulders look? Do you have neck pain? There are countless factors that can contribute to you developing tennis elbow. A physical therapist will examine all of these factors, fix the cause of the symptoms, and ultimately fix the problem! Visit your physical therapist to start feeling better today!
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