Tennis Elbow Is Not Exclusive to Tennis
Posted on 6th April, 2022
Known in medical terms as lateral epicondylitis, tennis elbow results from the overuse of the elbow joints and forearm muscles, primarily due to repetitive movements. Despite its name, the condition isn't exclusive to athletes and affects up to 3% of Americans.
Flawed repetitive movements or incorrect technique can lead to minor tears in the tendon that attaches the forearm muscle to the elbow.
These tendons and muscles can become damaged and require physical therapy and even surgical intervention with prolonged use.
Employing the wrong technique can lead to the swing's force rotating through and around the wrist or the elbow, generating a movement that can cause pressure on the tendon and produce inflammation. Extensor muscles that straighten the wrist regularly become painful due to this tendon breakdown.
The condition is also associated with finger and wrist extensions, the types of movement that allow us to snap or flick the wrist. If it isn't addressed and left untreated, tennis elbow doesn't only cause pain but can also affect grip strength and impact aspects of regular life that we take for granted.
While it's more common in sports, tennis elbow can stem from regular activities, including:
- Using hand tools in a repetitious motion (shears, scissors, screwdrivers)
- Using tools during bricklaying, plumbing, decorating, or carpentry
- Activities involving attentive hand and wrist motion (typing, sewing)
- Activities requiring the repetitive bending of the elbow (playing or practicing the stringed musical instruments)
While the name is suggestive, it's essential to know that tennis players aren't the only ones that develop this condition. Individuals who train or practice other racquet sports utilize most of the same muscles that tennis players do. These include:
- Table Tennis
Likewise, it's not only sports involving racquets that can lead to cases of tennis elbow. Any sporting activity that extensively uses wrist, forearm, and elbow motions can lead to the condition, including:
- Rock Climbing
- Martial Arts
- Javelin Throw
- Discus Throw
Preventing an injury is always wiser than having to treat one. To reduce the risk of developing tennis elbow, it's vital to be aware of movement techniques during exercise and the game. Instead of repeatedly using the smaller muscles of the wrist and elbows, it's recommended to spread the load to the muscles of the shoulders and upper arms.
As with all sports, there are common-sense measures that players can take to avoid this condition from developing or coming back:
- Warming Up and Stretching - This is recommended for any sport, and games that involve repetitive arm movements are not exempt. Dedicating time to warm up and gently stretching the muscles are the first step toward avoiding injuries.
- Lightweight Equipment - To reduce the wear and tear on tendons, it's recommended to use lighter equipment with a larger grip size. Likewise, soaked or old balls are heavier and load the arm with additional weight that isn't required.
- Increasing Forearm Strength - Solid forearm muscles take the load off the joints while supporting arm motion and prevent the condition from developing.
Employing preventive measures sometimes just isn't enough to avoid injuries. This is especially true for professional athletes that are at the top of their game or players who aim to improve their swing. As a common condition resulting from the overuse of the arm's extensor muscles, tennis elbow can be treated both through invasive and non-invasive methods:
- NSAIDs - standing for non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, these are painkillers that can help ease mild pain and inflammation; they're recommended as an alternative to steroid injections that can affect a professional player's status.
- Specialized Physical Therapy - Physiotherapy uses a range of methods to restore movement to an injured elbow. These include massage and manual manipulation to relieve pain, stiffness and improve blood flow, exercises that maintain arm mobility and strengthen forearm muscles and the use of braces or other supporting aids over the short term.
- Surgery - When non-invasive methods aren't sufficient, surgery may be required to address severe and constant pain by removing the injured part of the tendon. Professional athletes can expect to return to their sports in 4 to 6 months following tennis elbow surgery.