Many tennis players have been eager to get back out onto the court as lockdown restrictions have begun to lift, encouraged by the recent spate of warm sunny weather. If you are one of them, it’s worth taking things slowly and building up your fitness gradually to avoid falling prey to one of the most common tennis injuries – epicondylitis, or tennis elbow.
What is tennis elbow?
Tennis elbow is a condition that affects the tendons joining the muscles of the forearm to the elbow. It affects the outside of the elbow (lateral) while golfer’s elbow affects the inside (medial). In tennis elbow it is the extensor muscles that become painful, while in golfer’s elbow it is the flexor muscles. Symptoms of tennis elbow include pain and loss of grip strength.
Causes of tennis elbow
Repetitive arm movements, such as the tennis serve or slam, can cause epicondylitis. The condition doesn’t just affect tennis players but anyone whose job involves making such movements, including painters and decorators or those who regularly lift heavy weights. It is most common in people aged between 30 and 50. If you damage the tendons in your arms you may also develop the condition and, unfortunately, some people are affected by tennis elbow for no apparent reason.
Your extensor and flexor muscles help to stabilise your wrist and you use them when you grip the tennis racket. Overusing these muscles can cause them to weaken and microscopic tears can develop where the muscles attach to the elbow. The result is pain and inflammation. As the elbow bends and straightens the tendons may rub against the bony bumps in your elbow causing further damage.
Diagnosis and treatment of tennis elbow
Following a physical examination to ascertain where you are feeling the pain, you may be referred for an X-ray or MRI scan to confirm the diagnosis of tennis elbow and rule out other conditions like arthritis.
You will need to stop using the affected arm for a few weeks until the pain subsides and, in particular, you should not continue doing whatever it was that caused the problem, such as playing tennis.
Taking anti-inflammatories and painkillers can help you to manage the pain and you may also want to wear a strap to protect your forearm. Exercises recommended by a physiotherapist can help to strengthen the affected muscles.
Injections of corticosteroids into the affected area may be recommended to reduce inflammation and relieve pain and, in some cases, you may be offered platelet rich plasma (PRP) injections, which use stem cells taken from your own blood to promote healing.
If the pain does not go away and is interfering with your day-to-day life, you may need surgery to remove damaged tissue and reattach healthy tendons to the bone.
In many cases this can be carried out using keyhole surgery but some types of surgery need to be done using conventional surgical techniques. You will normally see a reduction in pain within six weeks although it can take several months for you to make a full recovery.
Prevention of tennis elbow
Unfortunately, it is not always possible to prevent tennis elbow. However, there are some steps you can take which might reduce the likelihood of developing the condition or prevent it from recurring. Firstly, always warm up properly before exercise and gently stretch your arm muscles to avoid injury.
If you develop pain in your elbow it is important to stop whatever is causing the pain, or find a different way of doing that particular activity. Using the muscles of your shoulder and upper arm more effectively can take some pressure off your wrist and elbow, so having some proper tennis coaching may help you to improve your technique and reduce your risk of injury.
If you suspect you may have tennis elbow or another type of injury, it is important not to continue playing sport. Rest the affected area and use an ice pack to reduce swelling. If the pain is severe, seek professional medical advice.
Orthopaedic specialists – Nottingham
Our orthopaedic consultants each specialise in a particular area of orthopaedics, giving you added peace of mind that you are receiving expert medical advice and highly tailored treatment.
In recent months we have been supporting the NHS during the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic and continue to do so.
Castle Orthopaedics are now open for virtual and face to face consultations and we are also now rescheduling treatment and surgery.
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