Elbow pain is a common injury encountered by tennis players since they actively and repeatedly use their arms and elbows for their big swings, smashes, and volleys. If left ignored, even seemingly harmless elbow pain can lead to a condition commonly called “tennis elbow”.
As an injury that affects the tendons and muscles of your forearm, tennis elbow commonly presents with pain extending from the elbow to the wrist and fingers.
Research has shown that 75% of elbow pain suffered by tennis players are caused by tennis elbow. In the United States, 2-3% of the population suffer from tennis elbow yearly with obesity and doing vigorous physical activities as major risk factors.
What causes tennis elbow?
Tennis elbow develops over time, and interestingly doesn’t just affect tennis players; in fact, tennis players only comprise 10% of tennis elbow cases. People who are older than 40 years old, smokers, and overweight people are at risk of suffering from tennis elbow. Moreover, the following activities can lead to the injury:
Various hobbies or sports activities. Doing hobbies or sports activities that require frequent repetitive arm movements such as playing the violin, knitting, painting, decorating, racquetball, weightlifting, and fencing can predispose you to a tennis elbow.
House chores. According to a study, doing works that involve repetitive elbow movements for 2 hours daily can put a strain on the tendons of your elbow, wrist, and fingers. Simple house chores such as scrubbing the toilet, raking the leaves, doing carpentry work, pulling the weeds, and cooking include repetitive elbow movements that can lead to overuse injury.
Improper techniques during sports or when doing house chores can increase the stress on your tendons. Not using proper equipment can also predispose you to an elbow injury.
Signs and Symptoms of Tennis Elbow
The signs and symptoms of tennis elbow caused by an overuse injury develop gradually. When there’s a repetitive use of your arms and elbows, you may feel the following symptoms:
Pain and tenderness around the bony part of your elbow
Elbow pain that radiates to your wrist and fingers
Elbow pain when gripping or lifting a heavy object.
Difficulty straightening your hand and wrist
Difficulty rotating a doorknob or turning a wrench
Neck stiffness or tenderness
Treatment for elbow pain
Most elbow pain and tennis elbow injuries can heal on their own without any medical treatment. For a tennis player, however, medical treatment is a must for a faster recovery. Here are some tips to help you recover from your injury faster:
Ice the affected elbow
Cold therapy helps reduce the swelling of your injured tendons thus reducing the pain. For the first 2 to 3 days of your injury, ice your injured elbow for about 20 minutes every 3 to 4 hours.
Rest your elbow and wear an elbow brace
To facilitate the healing process, you have to rest your elbow for several days or weeks. Wearing an elbow brace is a convenient and effective way to alleviate tennis elbow pain and minimize unnecessary movements that can further aggravate your injury.
Perform various exercises
While it is important to rest your elbow from time to time especially during your first 3 days of injury, too much inactivity can lead to joint stiffness. Doing strength, flexibility, and range-of-motion exercises can help relieve the stiffness of your elbow muscles and tendons and improve their flexibility. Before doing any form of exercise, however, get a clearance from your doctor and physical therapist on what exercises are recommended for your injury and how to perform them.
Take your prescribed pain medications
Elbow pain can greatly limit your productivity and can hurt your career. If icing and resting your elbow are ineffective in managing the pain, you can take pain relievers. Take the right dosage and frequency of the drug based on your doctor’s prescription.
If the symptoms do not subside within 6 to 12 months of nonsurgical treatment, your doctor might recommend an open surgery to remove the diseased muscle and reattach healthy muscles to the bone. Post-surgical recovery may take at least a week but you won’t be able to play tennis for a while within a period of 4 to 6 months.