I think I have tennis elbow… but I don’t play tennis?!
Tennis elbow (also called lateral epicondylalgia) is used to describe pain on the outside of your elbow. This pain corresponds to a bony point where many of your forearm muscles attach via a tendon. There are many factors that contribute to the development of tennis elbow, but overuse without allowing enough recovery seems to be a dominant reason in leading to the area becoming sensitised and painful. A similar issue can happen on the inside of the elbow and is called golfer’s elbow.
(Un)fun fact: Despite its name, the majority of people with tennis elbow do not play tennis!
What does tennis elbow feel like?
Patients with tennis elbow often report the following (Lucado et al., 2022):
- Pain or weakness when gripping or lifting objects
- Pain when straightening your wrist or fingers against resistance
- Pain when pressing the bony spot on the outside of your elbow
- Pain when rotating the wrist
- Stiffness and pain tends to be worse in the morning
As you can tell, tennis elbow can significantly affect your day-to-day function, especially if it affects your dominant arm. The onset of tennis elbow tends to be gradual, which means that patients will often have had symptoms for several weeks or months before seeking help from their physiotherapist or GP.
There are several factors (Lucado et al., 2022) that can make it more likely for someone to develop tennis elbow, including:
- Repetitive elbow and wrist bending and straightening (especially >2 hours a day)
- Repetitive forearm twisting movements
- Handling heavy tools
- Female sex
- Previous smoking history
- Having a previous wrist injuries (e.g. De Quervain’s tenosynovitis, carpal tunnel syndrome)
Do I need to get a scan?
It is unlikely that your physiotherapist will recommend getting a scan to help treat tennis elbow. If many of your symptoms closely match the features described above, that is usually a strong indicator of tennis elbow. Your physiotherapist will also perform some tests with you to help rule in or rule out other issues. There are other conditions that may appear like tennis elbow but involve other structures and require different treatment. If your physiotherapist suspects this to be the case, they will discuss imaging or other referrals to make sure you receive the correct treatment.
How can Solutions help?
When you come in to see one of our physiotherapists, we start by asking some questions about your experience of the condition. By doing so, we can piece together the “history” of the problem and what may have brought it on. We then run through a thorough physical assessment, which can include assessing other areas like the shoulder and neck. After evaluating the function of your elbow and other joints, we will tailor a treatment strategy specific to your needs and lifestyle.
To effectively manage tennis elbow, load management, understanding triggers and exercise are the cornerstones of a successful treatment plan. We sometimes combine these with other complementary therapies such as manual therapy, dry needling and taping depending on your needs (Coombes, Bisset, & Vicenzino, 2015).
I think I have tennis elbow – what should I do?
Tennis elbow symptoms can range from being a mild annoyance, to severely limiting daily activities. Wherever your symptoms are on that scale, you can reach out to us on 1300 738 609 or book online to see one of our physiotherapists! Let us help you find your Solution.