In 20 years of practicing physical therapy, I’ve treated lots of people with tennis elbow. Ironically, few played tennis. Why is that?
Pain on the outside bump of the elbow is called lateral epicondylitis, which is more commonly known as tennis elbow. It has numerous causes, one of which is playing tennis. In these instances, it’s typically the forces during the backhand swing combined with a stiff, light (less than 10 oz.) and head-heavy racquet that leads to problems of tennis elbow.
Beyond tennis, there’s a list a mile long of factors that play in to tennis elbow. Problems in the neck, weak shoulder blade muscles, nerve impingement, and forearm muscle imbalances are just a few. A big cause is overuse, meaning that the forearm muscles are over worked to the point a tendonitis develops.
With the weather looking more like spring, you can bet that an armful (pun intended) of patients with tennis elbow will grace my clinic doors. That’s because many of these folks will anxiously grab the pruners, shearers, trimmers, shovels, and rakes. They’ll work hard all weekend to get the yard done. Resultantly, their forearm muscles and tendons will be seriously overworked, leading to the pain of tennis elbow.
Thankfully, physical therapists provide needed help when treating this condition. We educate on avoiding overuse, applying a tennis elbow strap, and implementing a home stretching, strenthening, and icing program.
Having an arsenal of treatment choices is handy when treating tennis elbow. In some cases, we use an instrument, such as a coin or the handle of a reflex hammer to “scrape” along the tendon to get it to heal. This technique originated in China as Gua Sha. We now call this approach Instrument Assisted Soft Tissue Mobilization, or IASTM. Even though it’s a bit painful (some say quite painful), it is another tool that can be used to abolish the symptoms of tennis elbow. Not every treatment hurts, though. For instance, we also apply cold laser and ultrasound to help strengthen collagen within the sore tissues. Collagen is a network of tissue fibers that gives the tendon strength.
There’s something you should know about tennis elbow. Once it strikes, it rarely goes away on its own. In those cases, it goes on to be a chronic recurring problem referred to as a “tendinosis.” A tendinosis is a chronic problem in which the collagen fibers are fewer in number and aligned haphazardly in the tissue. The result? You guessed it. A weak and painful tendon. These are tough ones to fix, but physical therapy can help.
So if the yard is now done, and your elbow knows it, call either of our clinics (South: 251-2323; North: 541-2606). We’re here to help. Until then, read this document I wrote on the subject. It’s full of good information and lots of big pictures. Click here to read A Patient’s Guide to Lateral Epicondylitis (Tennis Elbow).