Tennis elbow or lateral epicondylitis is a condition where the outer part of the elbow becomes painful and tender, usually as a result of repeated strain, overuse, or trauma to the region.
What are the causes of tennis elbow?
Although called tennis elbow, lateral epicondylitis is also commonly seen in people who are over using their arm. It could equally well be called "golfer's elbow" or "mechanic's elbow" or "painter's elbow". The most common cause is the overuse of muscles that are attached to the elbow. This simply refers to all those muscles that pull the hand backwards. All extensor muscles of the hand attach to the elbow at the outer part (the lateral epicondyle). If they are strained or overused, they become inflamed, which means they become swollen, painful, and hence tender to touch.
Regular massages could be one of the most important aspects in avoiding a situation like this, although you could never really guarantee that such a situation may not arise either ways too. Sometimes the inflammation is caused by a direct injury. Sometimes, when the cause is direct injury or strain, the muscles are partially torn.
The outer part of the elbow is rather painful and tender to touch. Movements of the elbow that involve lifting, with the hand on top can hurt badly. Any sport, from badminton, to tennis, to golf involves both the massive movement of the wrist and the complete arm. The elbow is one such part which is most often neglected and once affected takes a rather long time to heal.
How tennis elbow is diagnosed?
Your doctor or physiotherapist may test for tenderness in the muscles attached to the elbow. He also tests to see whether the pain gets any worse when you bend the wrist back (extend it) against resistance. Diagnostic tests like an X-ray, ultrasonography and MRI may also be done. An X-ray may show signs of fracture and arthritis which may be causing the problem. MRI and sonography are done to see whether there is a build-up of fluid in the tender area and also the amount of swelling present in the affected area. These tests however are expensive, and hence are avoided.
- Rest is advised to most of the affected patients. The activity that caused the problem is also best avoided till the pain recedes.
- Physiotherapy treatments like ice packs and ultrasound therapy helps in many cases.
- Use of anti-inflammatory drugs and ordinary pain killers (analgesics) are given to ease the pain.
- Your doctor may suggest an injection of a small dose of steroid to the affected area. If used, it can last for up to three months.
- Lastly, you can buy a brace from a sports shop or pharmaceutical supplier, which can be helpful. This is probably largely because it reduces the amount you can use your elbow, hence protecting it from awkward movements.