More than half of tennis players will be diagnosed with Tennis Elbow at some point, but did you know that people who play tennis make up a very small percentage of all reported cases? That’s right. A majority of the patients treated by Dr. Erica Umpierrez, Orthopaedic Surgeon and Hand/Upper Extremity specialist with CMC Orthopaedics, got it through other activities rather than tennis.
What is Tennis Elbow?
Tennis Elbow is a painful degenerative condition of the tendons attached to the outer portion of the elbow typically caused by overuse. These tendons are also fastened to the muscles that allow you to extend and lift your wrist and hand. “Rigorous and repetitive use of the forearm muscles is generally what leads to a case of Tennis Elbow,” says Dr. Umpierrez. “Maybe you raked your yard too long one weekend and that flared it up. That inflammation of the tendon will cause weakness, pain, and tenderness on the outside of the elbow, forearm, and wrist that can last for a while.”
Who can get Tennis Elbow?
“Anyone who is doing any type of repetitive movement with their arms can get it,” explained Dr. Umpierrez. “In fact, a bunch of my patients are golfers, not tennis players. The inflammation doesn’t have to be caused by a sport either. Trade workers like painters, carpenters, electricians who use and lift hand tools regularly are prone to getting tennis elbow. People who just like working in their garden can get it too.”
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Do I have Tennis Elbow?
Symptoms and the intensity of pain may vary. People suffering from tennis elbow often have tenderness and aching on the outside elbow and the upper forearm just below the bend of the elbow, which worsens with repeated use of the elbow.
“People with Tennis Elbow may have a hard time extending their arm completely,” explained Dr. Umpierrez. “They’ll experience a lot of pain when they lift or bend their arm, and when they twist their forearm, and while gripping things. Even holding something as small and weightless as a pen can be excruciating in extreme cases. And the pain isn’t always just around the elbow. Sometimes it will radiate down as far as the wrist.”
How do you treat it?
First and foremost, you’ll need to stop playing sports or doing certain kinds of activities and work so that your arm can recuperate. “The hardest thing is to make people not do the activity that caused the Tennis Elbow in the first place,” laughed Dr. Umpierrez. “Try convincing an avid golfer to not play golf. But that rest is needed to allow your tendon to heal and reduce the inflammation.” Splints and braces can be used to help the muscles and tendons rest.
Dr. Umpierrez recommends physical therapy for most of her Tennis Elbow cases along with learning how to strengthen the forearms, and changing how you lift things. Medications and injections can help with swelling and pain if needed. The good news is that a majority of patients do not need surgery to fully recover from Tennis Elbow.