Lateral epicondylitis, more famously know as tennis elbow, is a painful condition caused by overuse. However, it is not just tennis players who are susceptible. Any athlete or person who participates in a sport or activity with repetitive arm motion is at risk, including golfers and baseball pitchers, as well as painters and carpenters.
Repetitive Motion Meets Its Match
The elbow joint is held together by tendons, ligaments, and muscles. When these are put through the same motions over and over and again, they become sore, damaged, and inflamed. This leads to pain, and tenderness on the outside of your elbow. In addition, you may feel as though you have a weak grip as well as a burning sensation. Symptoms develop gradually over time and are most painful during activities involving excessive forearm motion or weight lifting.
Acing the Diagnosis
A doctor will perform a number of tests to rule out other possible causes of your pain. For example, an X-ray may be taken to rule out arthritis in the joint, an MRI can detect whether you have a herniated disk or arthritis in your neck that could affect the nerve, and an EMG can indicate if nerve compression is a factor.
Your activities, occupation, and origin of your symptoms will also be taken under consideration, as will your medical history. To pinpoint the diagnosis, you will be asked to undergo a variety of tests involving not only your arm, but your wrist and fingers too.
Getting Back into the Swing of Things
Tennis elbow responds well to non-surgical treatments. To recover, rest is at the top of the list. Refrain from contributing activities for several weeks. During this time we may advise you to take ant-inflammatory medicine or receive cortisone shots to ease the pain. You can also perform an equipment check. Make sure all of the equipment and tools that you use are the appropriate, size, weight, and fit. Wearing a brace can help rest the tendons and muscles as well as relieve symptoms. Finally, specific physical therapy exercises can help strengthen the muscles, and other techniques, like ice massage and ultrasound, can be used to expedite the recovery as well. Another option is extracorporeal pain laser therapy, which uses infrared light to expedite the healing process. If pain persists even after conservative treatments have been applied, it is likely time to consider surgery.
Defeating the Pain
Tennis elbow surgery typically involves the removal of damaged muscle and the reattachment of healthy muscle to the bone. Which surgical procedure you have is dependent upon the severity of the injury, as well as your overall health and specific needs. There are two main types of surgery:
Open—This is the most common method. It entails making an incision over the elbow, and can be done on an outpatient basis.
Arthoscopic—Repairs are made with tiny instruments through small incisions. Like open surgery, this is also an outpatient procedure.
Following either surgery, your arm will be placed in a splint to temporarily immobilize it. The splint will remain on for about one week, at which point you can begin physical therapy to help stretch your elbow and restore its flexibility. Two months after surgery you will be able to do light strengthening exercises. You may return to your normal physical activity in 4 to 6 months.
As with every surgery, risks are involved. In this case, that could mean infection, loss of strength and flexibility, blood vessel or nerve damage, prolonged rehabilitation, and the possibility of additional surgery. However, 80 to 90 percent of the time the surgery is a success.
Service You’ll Love
If you think you may have tennis elbow, call our physical therapists at (303) 805-5156. Come on in to Castle Pines Physical Therapy in Castle Pines, CO, or Cherry Creek Physical Therapy in Cherry Creek and we’ll help you get back in the game!