By Matt Broussard, PT, DPT, COMT, OCS
You don’t have to be Roger Federer or Serena Williams to end up with Tennis Elbow. In fact, you might end up with the painful condition—caused by repetitive stress of the forearm, arm, and hand muscles that penetrate the elbow—even if you’ve never swung a tennis racket. So before you shrug off that dull, chronic ache in the back of your arm, consider these causes, symptoms, and treatment options for tennis elbow.
What is lateral epicondylitis or tennis elbow?
The name “epicondylitis” is a little deceiving, as it implies that there is inflammation present. In the past, the treatment for these issues has consisted of steroid injections, medications (anti-inflammatories), over the counter medications, braces and physical therapy. We now know that inflammation is not the source of pain. Tennis elbow is caused by breakdown of the tendons of the gripping muscles due to too much load too fast. Steroid injections may help for awhile, but eventually these tendons will need to be strengthened.
If anti-inflammatory medications aren’t the complete solution, what is?
We know changing the load on the tendon until it adapts is key to getting pain relief and back to normal activities faster. Then, a very specific strengthening regimen is needed to create tendon repair without causing further aggravation. In the beginning, the biggest question that needs answering is what stage of breakdown is the tendon experiencing? A licensed physical therapist with training in orthopedic and manual therapy is your best bet for analyzing these overuse-type injuries. A thorough assessment of medical history and activity level, as well as joint, muscle and nerve testing will help to determine how to best treat this newfound pain. Even if the pain is new in onset, there could be underlying tissue damage from years of repetitive activities.
How will a physical therapist treat tennis elbow?
To relieve a painful tendon, interventions such as ”hands-on” treatment to address joint and muscle restrictions, taping to assist muscles in movement and trigger point dry needling to quickly loosen up muscles are all good treatments. Once the initial, painful load has been decreased, retraining the tendon to accept a greater force (or more frequent normal force) takes place through a graded exercise program designed by your therapist. Also, contributing factors from our neck, back, shoulder and wrist can all lead to poor mechanics, changes in nerve activity and increased pain in the elbow. While we may not think about our neck causing elbow pain, your therapist is trained as an expert on assessing the origin of pain. In most cases, not only can they rid patients of pain, but they can also do it without causing them to stop their favorite hobbies.
Let the expert trained therapists at Results Physiotherapy get you back on the road to the activities you enjoy most, pain free. In most cases, you don’t need a physician referral.
320 Bristol West Blvd., Ste. 2A
Orthopedic and Pelvic Health Therapy
2312 Knob Creek Rd., Ste 200
210 S. Cumberland St.
For a complete list of locations and information regarding Results Physiotherapy Clinics, visit us at www.resultspt.com.
If you would like individual questions answered by a senior clinician visit www.resultspt.com/ask-a-physical-therapist.