It sounds silly, but these two terms could mean the same thing, although the latter sounds too goofy to complain about to your doctor or friends. Tennis elbow or “lateral epicondylitis” describes a condition caused by inflammation of the forearm and hand muscles where they attach to the arm bone near the elbow. Overuse is the culprit, either on the tennis court or on the mouse pad. The condition can occur in anyone who uses their elbow, wrist, and hand repeatedly for prolonged periods of time.
In addition to tennis players, I’ve treated this condition in carpenters, dental hygienists, office workers using a mouse and computer, fast food staff, and musicians to name a few. Typically symptoms occur gradually over a period of time, but sudden forceful activity, like pulling a lawnmower cord can produce this injury. In addition to elbow pain that radiates into the forearm and wrist, symptoms may include elbow stiffness, arm weakness, and increased pain using the wrist/hand for daily activities such as opening a jar or gripping.
The good news is that just about every case is curable with physical therapy, especially if started early. In rare cases, I may have to refer to a doctor to consider a cortisone injection, medication or surgery, but over the past year at SBB we’ve had 100% success rate with our patients (N=5). Initially, we use various modalities and manual techniques to sooth pain, but later the most important part of the treatment is exercise aimed at strengthening and toughening up the forearm muscles that will bear the brunt of the force with the repetitive activity. Sometimes I need to make changes in the way my patients perform an activity, like changing the grip, the position, the computer set-up and/or the office equipment. Postural correction and retraining of proximal musculature is sometimes needed. For example, when lifting a heavy load I may have my patient bring the object closer, switch to a palm up lift, or contract muscles around the core and shoulder blade to reduce stress on the arm.
Finally, simple prevention may keep some folks out of my office (not that I necessarily want that). Prevent tennis elbow by staying fit, sitting and standing up straight, using proper technique and well designed, appropriate equipment, and taking stretch breaks. For more information on the treatment of tennis elbow or any sports injury, contact us at Seacoast Body Balance, LLC 603-400-0711.
- Melissa, PT