Is Tennis Serving Up Some Pain?
In any sport, aches, pains, and injuries are expected. Tennis is no exception. One common injury in the sport is aptly called tennis elbow, or lateral epicondylitis. Up to 50% of tennis players will experience some form of tennis elbow. The condition can affect performance but can be treated with non-surgical methods. Ironically, tennis players make up less than 10% of all cases of the condition.
An inflamed outer elbow
For the arm to make complex movements, tendons, ligaments, bones, and muscles must work together seamlessly. Tendons are an essential part of the equation as these tough pieces of tissue connect muscle to bone. Tennis elbow affects the tendons on the outer part of the arm near the elbow. The constant use by tennis players causes the tendons to become inflamed and painful. The condition can affect persons of all ages but mostly affects persons aged 40 and over.
Who gets tennis elbow?
Tennis elbow goes beyond persons playing the sport. Repetitive use of the arm is the leading cause of the injury, so there are many other sports that come to mind. Weight lifting, basketball, volleyball, squash, and fencing are other activities that cause tennis elbow. The injury also goes beyond athletes with construction workers, carpenters, painters, and warehouse workers at risk. Almost anyone who uses the arm repeatedly without rest can eventually develop the condition.
Knowing is half the battle.
Persons with tennis elbow will feel pain and tenderness near the bony bump of the elbow. In some cases, the pain moves to the middle of the forearm. The pain becomes apparent or worse when lifting or gripping objects. Most people ignore the condition, but tennis elbow can become more painful if left untreated. If there is noticeable discomfort when using the arm, see a doctor immediately. The doctor will perform some simple tests, including an X-ray to confirm the condition.
Simple but effective treatment options
Tennis elbow responds well to non-surgical treatment. For starters, resting the affected arm while simultaneously using ice packs can bring significant relief. If the pain does not let up, a doctor can prescribe non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDs. More severe cases can benefit from physical therapy, bracing with elbow straps, or steroid injections. Severe cases can take several weeks to months to heal.
Surgery as a last resort
If there is no relief after months of conservative treatments, the doctor may turn to surgery. The goal of surgery is to relieve pain by removing some of the damaged tendons. Using minimally invasive means, the doctor uses small incisions and tools to remove the affected tissue. Surgery has a high 80-90% success rate but requires subsequent physical therapy during the recovery period.
It’s not just tennis
Despite the name, being a tennis player is not a requirement for tennis elbow. Anyone making repetitive motions can develop pain on the outer arm. Even persons spending hours typing or writing can develop elbow pain. Luckily, most conservative treatment options work to reduce pain, so stay consistent with treatment. More importantly, see a doctor if the elbow pain continues to impact the quality of life.