Tennis elbow is the more commonly used term to describe lateral epicondylitis, an inflammation of the tendons that connect your forearm to the outside of your elbow. Though the name of the condition implies a connection between the inflammatory injury and athletic prowess, anyone can develop tennis elbow, regardless of level of fitness or performance in sports. Tennis elbow is an overuse injury. You can strain the tendons near your elbow joint not only through racquet sports, but also from the following activities:
- Carpentry and plumbing
- Chopping and dicing food
- Manipulating a computer mouse
Seeking treatment as soon as you notice a pattern of symptoms can minimize pain and reduce your risk of invasive treatment.
The symptoms of tennis elbow don't strike in a sudden fit of acute pain, but more gradually, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS). You might notice a burning sensation or pain around the outside of your elbow that can extend as far down as your wrist after performing the offending activity. This pain is often followed by a discomfort that lingers and interferes with your daily life as the condition grows worse. Usually, you will have experienced minor symptoms for several weeks or months before the pain progresses.
Symptoms include weakness of the arm and wrist and difficulty grasping objects in your fist. Shaking hands with a friend or colleague may be painful or near impossible due to the tendon and muscle damage. You're most likely to experience symptoms of lateral epicondylitis in your dominant hand, but this isn't always the case. Your doctor may order imaging tests such as an MRI to determine if your pain stems from true tennis elbow or nerve impingement from your neck, such as a herniated disk.
The most essential treatment for tennis elbow is rest. Playing tennis, painting your house, or spending endless hours surfing the Web will only exacerbate your condition and won't allow your body to heal. If stopping the offending activities completely isn't possible, your doctor may prescribe a forearm brace to give your muscles and tendons support as you go about your daily life.
Icing the painful area and taking over-the-counter NSAIDS (non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs) may also provide you with some relief from tennis elbow, according to the Mayo Clinic. Severe cases of tennis elbow could require more invasive treatment, including steroid injections into the weakened muscles around your elbow. Surgery to remove the affected muscle and re-connect the tendons to the elbow is a last-resort treatment required by patients who can't find relief through rest, medication, and bracing.
Learning a new, more correct way to do things can be the ultimate method in preventing tennis elbow for some people. Straining of your soft tissues can come not only from overuse, but also from moving your body in an awkward way as you play sports or perform your daily work. Tennis elbow that's the result of actually playing tennis can be prevented by a few tennis lessons to learn the proper way to swing backhand, or to adjust your forward swing. If you work in an office, make sure your set up is ergonomically correct to avoid straining not only your arms, but also your neck and back as you work.