Tennis elbow is a condition that involves pain and soreness on the outer side of the elbow. This usually results from damage in the tendons that connect the forearm muscles to the elbows. The pain may also spread to the wrist area or the arms.
Tennis elbow is usually caused by an overuse syndrome to the tendons and muscles in the forearm leading to temporary or permanent damage. The overuse syndrome commonly involves twisting motion to the arms repeatedly that creates small tears overtime. Twisting motions in the arms are commonly seen in tennis players and people who are involved in the use of screwdrivers, painting, and gardening. A physical trauma such as direct blow to the tendons outside the elbows may also cause such.
Tennis elbow should be treated promptly because even the mildest activity in the arms such as turning the doorknob may already create moderate to severe pain. Before any management can be employed, diagnostic tests are usually done to ascertain the presence of a tennis elbow. Often, CT scans are employed to visualize the soft structure because X-rays often cannot detect damages within soft structures.
After a correct diagnosis is made, managements are employed. However, some palliative managements are already started even before a diagnosis is made to relieve pain and discomfort. Treatments include:
Rest is the first and foremost management for tennis elbow since the cause is a repeated injury. Rest allows the tendons and muscles to relax and to prevent further injury when you use the arms further. Activities that worsen the pain such as twisting motions of the arms should be avoided.
- Application of Cold packs
Cold packs are used for 15 minutes over the affected elbow to reduce pain. Cold temperature usually numbs the nerves and also prevents further inflammation.
- Application of Cold Packs
Following the acute phase of injury, warm packs may also be applied over the affected area to relax the surrounding muscles and promote tissue healing.
- Use of OTC Analgesics
Pain relievers such as acetaminophen are also initially used to reduce significant pain. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as naproxen and ibuprofen may also be taken.
- Use of Counterforce Brace
This brace is a strap worn around the forearm an inch below the elbow. This reduces pressure on the tendons in case twisting or grasping motions are employed.
- Physical Therapy
Physical therapy is employed as a form of rehabilitation of the elbows. Physical therapy may require patients to employ various exercises to strengthen and increase the flexibility of the tendons in the elbow area.
- Steroid Therapy
When symptoms do not improve in 6 to 8 weeks, steroid injections may be administered directly to the elbows to significantly reduce pain and inflammation.
- Ultrasound therapy
Ultrasound therapy may also be employed to reduce pain immediately.
When pain has already subsided, activities may be resumed gradually. Slowly building up on the activity helps heal the elbows completely and prevent more injury. Stretching exercises should still be continued even if the symptoms disappear to ensure more flexible tendons and muscles in the forearm.