Tennis Elbow Symptoms

Despite its name, tennis elbow is not only suffered by tennis players, although the name originated from the fact that it is a common injury among a large number of them.  Though pain is primarily experienced in the elbow area, it is actually an inflammation of the tendon of the wrist extensor muscles, the muscles that allow tennis players to do a backhand.

Medically, tennis elbow is referred to as lateral epicondylitis because the pain is usually around the bony lump on the outside of the elbow called lateral epicondyle.  If pain occurs on the other side – inside – the condition is known as golfer’s elbow.

The elbow joint makes possible the movement of the elbow, wrists and fingers.  So any strain in these three areas may give rise to the condition.

The pain occurs on the outside of the forearm, where the tendon attaches to the bone.  That is located just below the bend in the elbow.  Further, the pain radiates from there to the wrists, making it excruciating when extending the forearm.  Other symptoms include inflammation, tingling in the shoulder, elbow or wrist, or any stiffness that limits elbow movement.  Pain is aggravated by twisting movements, like opening a tightly sealed jar, or turning a doorknob.

The pain may creep up suddenly (a sudden onset) when doing a backhand, or show up 24 to 72 hours later (late onset) after unaccustomed wrist extension. Machinists and mechanics, computer users (who are more prone to repetitive strain injury) and even those who lug around heavy briefcases, can all fall victim to this type of injury.  And no, tennis players do not have the monopoly of the pain; golfers are prone, too.  In fact, anybody who frequently overuses isolated muscle groups in the elbow and wrist area may fall victim.

Direct injury, like bumps in the lateral epicondyle, is frequently the cause of torn muscles that are more difficult to repair; hence, recurrence of injury is common.

Tennis elbow could also be due to gouty arthritis, although this is rare.  Crystals of uric acid get deposited in joints where they erode the joint fluid.  Urate crystals can colonize nearby areas, including tendons, resulting to inflammation.

In cases where incorrect muscle use, or repetitive strain, is the culprit, warming up the muscle before strenuous activities minimizes the incidence of injury.  These exercises could help:

  • Stretch for fifteen minutes prior to subjecting the elbow to stress;
  • Rest.  Take a break.  Micro-tears that the body has a hard time catching up repairing are made more susceptible to further injury.  Allow the area enough time to heal before subjecting it to another stressor;
  • Lift the correct way.  Lift heavy objects by bending your knee and grasping the object with palms in, facing the body.  Not only will you avoid straining your elbows, you’ll also do a kind favor to your knees;
  • Strengthen the muscles with hand and wrist weights.  Swiveling and twisting exercises, as though turning a combination lock, also help;
  • For tennis players, learn a new backhand.  A poor swing could be a stressor, especially if the repetitive motion goes uncorrected.

To alleviate pain, pack forearm with ice to reduce discomfort and keep swelling at bay.  The arms may have to be immobilized for up to 4 weeks.  This is important as it allows the body sufficient time to repair damaged micro-tears.

Also consider taking anti-inflammatory medicines.  You can go natural by incorporating foods that are rich with anti-inflammatory properties (honey is one).  Of course, when pain is severe, prescribed drugs may be in order.  Steroids may be recommended in acute cases.

Massage therapy is more preventive rather than curative.  Never massage an area that is swollen, painful or soft to the touch.  Once normal condition is restored, massage could be applied to warm up the muscles.

Surgery may be necessary to repair the tissue or cut loose the tendon, and reshape it.  But it is unlikely that the condition will progress if the condition is addressed early to require such invasive measure.

In tennis elbow, as with any injury, it is important to attend to the condition before it gets worse.  Otherwise, the injury may lead to permanent disability.