Tennis elbow treatments and exercises

Approximately 10-50% of tennis players suffer from tennis elbow at some point. But tennis elbow does not only affect tennis players, but everyone. The scientific name for tennis elbow is Lateral epicondylitis. The lateral epicondyle is a bony prominence of the lateral side of your elbow, where many muscles involved in extension of your wrist attach onto.

The elbow joint uses two main movements, flexion and extension. The joints involved are the humerus (upper arm), radius and ulna (bones of the forearm). The humerus has two condyles, and above these condyles are the medial and lateral epicondyles. The name is called ‘tennis elbow’ because it is an injury that occurs frequently in tennis, but predominantly when hitting a backhand stroke when the extensor muscles of the forearm are in action during wrist extension. Tennis also involves many grip changes, which further work the extensor muscles.

Why does tennis elbow happen

It is the repetitive nature of the tennis stroke (more particularly the backhand) which causes micro-trauma to the tendon. The tissue is unable to cope with the stresses placed on it, and the micro-trauma occurs.

Other factors that may cause tennis elbow are:

  • Strings on the tennis racket being too tight
  • Grip on the tennis racket being too large
  • Poor technique
  • Poor external rotation of the shoulder, thus placing more strain on the elbow
  • Poor flexibility
  • Reduced lower back mobility
  • Tennis elbow treatments

Symptoms of tennis elbow are pain down the lateral side of your elbow. Gripping is commonly very difficult, and picking up objects can be a challenge. A burning sensation down the forearm is also common.

Treatments include:

  • RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation)
  • Physiotherapy – stretches, electrotherapy, massage
  • Anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS)
  • Cortisone injection

There are five common stages to work through when addressing a tennis elbow injury:

  • Decrease pain
  • Reduce inflammation
  • Speed up the healing process
  • Maintain current fitness and strength
  • Minimise further damage to the injured area

Tennis elbow exercises and rehabilitation

Stretching your forearm extensor muscles – this is important to regain full range of movement in the elbow, and in order to realign the fibres during tissue repair. A common stretch for this injury is to extend your arm with palm of your hand facing downwards, and then pull your hand downwards towards the underside of your forearm.

As the elbow starts to improve, resistance exercises can begin. Weights can be added but they should be light at first, or theraband tubing. Wrist extensor curls are a great exercise when the elbow is ready for it. The best way to do this is lay your wrist over the edge of a table while gripping a light weight, your palms facing downwards. Begin the first repetition by curling the weight upwards (wrist extension) and then slowly lowering. Aim for three sets of 10 repetitions daily, and add an extra kilogram as able.

Isometric exercises should also be implemented. This involves squeezing a stress ball (not as hard as a tennis ball, but similar size), holding it momentarily before releasing. Another exercise is using a rubber band wrapped around all fingertips, and then extending your fingers outwards, holding for a few seconds before releasing.

While slowly gaining more strength in your forearm, make sure to maintain your aerobic fitness by cycling, or jogging – just as long as it does not strain your elbow.

To learn more about tennis elbow, please contact Active Physio Health on ph. 4972 5155, or visit the website: www.activephysiohealth.com.au . Shayne has been providing physiotherapy services to Gladstone for the past 7 years.

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