How to Treat Tennis Elbow with Physiotherapy
Tennis elbow is a painful condition that affects the outer side of the elbow. It is medically referred to as lateral epicondylalgia, but is commonly referred to as tennis elbow as it affects many tennis players. In saying this, it does not only affect tennis players and can affect other sports people, manual labourers, chefs and office workers for example. It is a condition that generally arises due to repetitive tasks including gripping, typing, computer mouse use or twisting the arm. It predominantly occurs on the dominant arm and most sufferers are aged between 30 and 60. Biologically, tennis elbow is an irritation of a tendon that attaches to the outer side of the elbow. This tendon is responsible for controlling many different muscles in the forearm that are responsible for various elbow, wrist and hand functions. With repetitive use of the arm, this tendon can become irritated.
While the term ‘tennis elbow’ is used because this is a common injury for tennis players, anyone who performs repetitive tasks with their hands and wrists can be susceptible, including office workers and manual labourers.
In the early stages, pain may be present with activity and quickly go away with rest, however, as it progresses the pain may be more constant, lasting for longer and occurring with smaller movements.
What are the Signs and Symptoms?
People with tennis elbow will primarily complain of pain on the outer side of their elbow when performing tasks such as gripping, twisting, typing or computer mouse use. This pain may radiate further down the forearm in some cases. Sufferers may also complain of neck pain on the same side as their elbow pain, and this may be contributing to the development of tennis elbow. Their pain may linger post-activity, but will usually ease with rest. Pain medications such as paracetamol and anti-inflammatories often provide temporary relief.
If pain has persisted for three months then it is considered to be a chronic condition. As with most injuries, the longer an issue has been present, the longer it usually takes to resolve.
Other symptoms can include night pain, stiffness in the elbow and forearm, weakness, numbness and pins and needles. As symptoms progress, simple tasks such as lifting a cup can be painful, which can have a significant impact on your lifestyle.
What Causes Tennis Elbow?
Tennis elbow is an overuse condition, meaning that the symptoms arise due to overuse of the injured area. Anyone who performs repetitive tasks such as office workers, manual labourers and chefs are prone to developing tennis elbow. A person’s posture and ergonomics when performing there repetitive tasks can also be a risk factor for developing tennis elbow. The design of equipment being used to perform daily tasks can also contribute to tennis elbow, including equipment that vibrates or has thin handles. Other biological factors such as age, overall health and genetics can be linked to tennis elbow.
How can Physiotherapy Help?
Our physiotherapists can accurately assess your elbow to determine whether you have tennis elbow or not. It is a condition that does not require any imaging to diagnose, but your physiotherapist will discuss imaging options with you if they believe it is indicated. Physiotherapy assessment will vary for each patient and practitioner, but will generally involve:
- Observation of the tasks that are causing the patient’s pain
- Assessment of elbow mobility
- Assessment of surrounding areas to determine if they are contributing to the patient’s pain (e.g. wrist, shoulder, neck)
- Assessment of grip strength and other specific muscle strength tests
- Palpation of the affected area to determine any painful structures
Physiotherapy treatment has been shown to be an effective treatment option for tennis elbow. Treatment options include massage, manual therapy, exercise therapy, dry needling, ultrasound, electrotherapy and bracing. Your physiotherapist will also discuss ways to adjust any tasks that are causing you pain. It is normal for treatment to take a few weeks or even months, and your physiotherapist will work with you to ensure you are continuing to make progress. This includes ensuring that you are maintaining to adhere to your home exercises. Your physiotherapist can discuss with you whether or not you need to see your GP, who may suggest adjuncts to physiotherapy treatment if you are not making any significant progress.
None of the information in this article is a replacement for proper medical advice. Always see a medical professional for an assessment of your individual condition. If your located in the Brisbane area book in to see us.