Tennis elbow, also known as lateral epicondylitis, is a painful condition that develops on the outside of your elbow joint where the tendons in your forearm attach to bone. These tendons may become swollen and inflamed due to repetitive motions of the wrist and arm. Left untreated, the pain may spread into your forearm and wrist. If you have tennis elbow, then you may find it difficult to perform everyday tasks such as turning a doorknob, holding a mug, or using a computer mouse.
The name of this condition leads many to believe that it only impacts those who participate in tennis, however, that’s a misconception. Tennis elbow can develop in those who lift weights or who have jobs or hobbies that require repetitive hand motions such as plumbers, gardeners, painters, carpenters, and chefs.
How is Tennis Elbow Diagnosed?
If you think that you may have tennis elbow, you should make an appointment with an orthopedist who will examine your elbow thoroughly. Your doctor will observe you as you flex your arm, wrist, and elbow. If necessary, your doctor may recommend an X-ray or MRI to make the diagnosis and to ensure there’s no other issues, such as nerve damage, that need to be addressed.
How is Tennis Elbow Treated?
The good news is that there are simple ways to treat tennis elbow:
- Rest your elbow and abstain from any activities that may have caused the condition in the first place.
- Ice the painful area for 20 minutes 3 to 4 times a day to help bring down swelling.
- Take over-the-counter pain medication as recommended by your doctor. Your doctor may also administer steroid or painkiller injections if the pain is severe.
- Use an elbow brace or strap to protect your elbow from further injury.
- Perform range of motion exercises as directed by your doctor to reduce stiffness and increase flexibility.
- Go to physical therapy if prescribed by your doctor.
In the majority of cases, these treatments for tennis elbow work quite well. However, if you find that you are still in pain after 3 or 4 months of conservative treatment, then your doctor may recommend surgery. In this procedure, the damaged section of tendon is removed, and the remaining tendon is repaired. The rates of success for tennis elbow surgery are very high.
How Long Does it Take for Tennis Elbow to Heal?
Everyone heals at different rates, so it’s important to be patient. Don’t rush your treatment and don’t jump back into activities until you are 100% pain free again. You’ll know that you are ready to return to your former level of activity when:
- Gripping objects is no longer painful.
- Your injured elbow feels as strong as your non-injured elbow.
- Your elbow is no longer swollen.
- You can flex and move the elbow without any trouble.
How Can I Prevent Tennis Elbow?
Of course, once you’ve recovered from tennis elbow, you want to make sure you don’t develop the condition again. If you are a tennis player or participate in any sport that may have caused the original injury, then talk to a professional instructor or trainer about proper technique. Sometimes a few minor adjustments will significantly reduce your risk of injury. Also, make sure you are using an appropriately sized racquet.
You also want to make sure that you warm up and stretch your muscles before you participate in any physical activity. After exercise, ice the area for 10 to 15 minutes. Finally, if you start to feel pain at any point during any activity, then stop and rest.
If you are experiencing elbow pain or think you may have tennis elbow, then contact Dr. James Parolie at Somerset Orthopedic & Sports Medicine. Dr. Parolie specializes in sports injuries and arthroscopic surgery. Call 908-425-4990 to schedule an appointment today.