Many people are surprised that lateral epicondylitis – more commonly known as tennis elbow – can be developed by people who have never even picked up a tennis racket. Despite its name, tennis elbow is not restricted to just tennis players – though it is estimated that as many as 70 percent of tennis players eventually develop the condition.
Even if you’re not a tennis pro, you do need an all-star chiropractor to help expedite the healing process and help you regain your strength. If tennis elbow has knocked you off your game, discover how the team at ChiroCare of Florida can help.
What is Tennis Elbow?
Tennis elbow develops when the tendons in the forearm become damaged. Tendons are flexible bands of strong fibrous connective tissue that attach a muscle to bone. They are located at each end of a muscle and as the muscle contracts, the attached tendon pulls the bone into movement.
When a tendon is overstretched or torn, it’s known as a strain. When a tendon is inflamed, it’s known as tendinitis. In lateral epicondylitis – tennis elbow – a bit of both is happening. Through repeated overuse, the tendon develops microscopic tears which do not heal completely. In turn, both the tendon and muscle become inflamed, creating pain and tenderness on the outside of the elbow.
What Causes Tennis Elbow?
The elbow joint is made up of the two bones in the forearm, the radius and the ulna, as well as the humerus, the long bone in the upper arm. Each end of the humerus has small bony bumps called epicondyles, which is where the tendons of the forearm attach.
Tennis elbow is most commonly caused by damage to a specific forearm muscle on the lateral side, known as the extensor carpi radialis brevis (ECRB). The ECRB is the muscle that helps stabilize the wrist when the elbow is straight. When the ECRB is overused, microscopic tears form in the tendon where it attaches to the lateral epicondyle, the fancy name for the bony bump located on the outside of the forearm.
Tennis elbow is a degenerative process that occurs when the tears within the tendon do not heal completely. Through repeated use, both the tendons and muscles become inflamed. Repetitive motions, like gripping a racket during a swing can strain the muscles and put too much stress on the tendons, leading to pain and tenderness on the outside of the elbow.
Who Gets Tennis Elbow?
You don’t have to be Serena Williams to develop tennis elbow. In fact, you don’t even have to like tennis. Many people who develop tennis elbow simply participate in work or recreational activities that require repetitive and vigorous use of the forearm muscle. Generally speaking, most people who get tennis elbow are between the ages of 35 and 65, although anyone can develop the condition if certain risk factors are present. The occurrence is equal among men and women, although the condition does occur in the dominant arm in about 75 percent of cases.
In racket sports like tennis, improper stroke technique and improper equipment play large risk factors. However, the repetitive motion of gripping a racket during a swing in itself can damage the ECRB, leading to tears in the tendon. Likewise, other people at risk of developing tennis elbow either professionally or recreationally include:
- Auto workers
Essentially, people who work with or use their hands frequently are at a higher risk of developing tennis elbow than those who are more sedentary.
Symptoms of Tennis Elbow
Tennis elbow pain is felt on the outside of the elbow, known as the lateral side. Pain is intensified by grasping objects and cocking back the wrist such as when holding a cup, turning a wrench, or shaking hands. In most cases, pain begins as mild and slowly worsens over the following weeks.
Common signs and symptoms of tennis elbow include:
- Morning stiffness of the elbow
- Pain or burning in the outer part of the elbow
- Pain radiating down the forearm
- Pain that worsens when lifting objects
- Weak grip strength
- Difficulty or pain making a fist
Tennis Elbow Treatment
If you have been diagnosed with tennis elbow, or believe you may have it, you’ll be relieved to know that a majority of patients experience symptom relief with conservative treatment. In fact, approximately 80 to 95 percent of patients have success with nonsurgical treatment.
At ChiroCare of Florida, the first step our physicians will take is ensuring that your injured tissue has had a chance to rest. This means that you will need to stop participating in sports or other activities that may be causing repeated use of the forearm or elbow. Using a brace centered over the back of your forearm may help relieve symptoms by stabilizing the ECRB and allowing the muscles and tendons to rest.
Next, your ChiroCare of Florida physician will develop a treatment plan that incorporates hands-on techniques to alleviate pain symptoms, inflammation, and help you regain grip strength. Your chiropractor will tailor your treatment to fit your unique needs. For instance, if you’re experiencing an extreme amount of morning stiffness, mobilization and range of motion techniques will be incorporated early on into treatment.
Tennis elbow treatment at ChiroCare of Florida includes:
- Instrument-Assisted Soft Tissue Mobilization (IASTM): As its name suggests, instrument-assisted soft tissue mobilization uses chiropractic tools to stretch affected tissue. Known as a myofascial technique, IASTM stretches both the myo (muscles) and the fascia (connective tissue, like tendons). Those suffering from tennis elbow will experience pain and inflammation in the forearm, and IASTM helps to relieve stress from the area.
- Hot and Cold Therapy: For years, physicians have harnessed the power of heat and cold to alleviate inflammation and provide pain relief. At ChiroCare of Florida, our physicians utilize laser treatments and ultrasound therapy to target heat directly into damaged tissue to promote healing and decrease inflammation. Cold therapy like cryotherapy temporarily reduces nerve activity, which limits pain signals in the forearm. It also releases anti-inflammatory molecules, endorphins, and toxins.
- Physical Therapy: Patients with tennis elbow can experience difficulties lifting objects or even making a fist. While this can be troublesome in itself, this lack of motion can also pose a great risk for injury. Physical therapy helps patients regain their range of motion while also safely exercising damaged muscles and tendons. Not only does physical therapy help alleviate current symptoms, but it also helps prevent future injury.
- Strengthening Exercises: As with physical therapy, strengthening exercises are necessary not only to alleviate current symptoms but also to prevent future injury. In patients with tennis elbow, the damage is caused by repeated motion and use of the same muscles and tendons. Strengthening exercises help build strength in the forearm to prevent tears within the tendon with overuse.
- Stretching: Once the muscles and tendons of the forearm are rested, you run the risk of developing scar tissue within the tendon. Stretching exercises improve blood flow, and alleviate pain and inflammation, as well as ensure that you retain full mobility once healed.
- Acupuncture: Acupuncture utilizes designated acupoints to relieve stress and trigger the body’s self-healing mechanism. The use of needles placed strategically into the skin causes the body to release endorphins as well as serotonin to alleviate pain and encourage faster healing.
Tennis Elbow Treatment at ChiroCare of Florida
Whether you’re spending hours on the court playing tennis, knitting a new sweater, or chopping veggies in the kitchen, tennis elbow can strike at any time. Luckily, the team at ChiroCare of Florida is available in 11 offices throughout the South Florida area to help you eradicate pain and promote healing.
If your career or lifestyle is continuously putting you at risk of developing tennis elbow symptoms, contact ChiroCare of Florida today. Tennis elbow is about to get served.