Tennis elbow gets its name because it is commonly associated with pain that comes from hitting a tennis ball backhand, which causes the arm to stay rigid when making contact and sends the force of the hit into the elbow. Also known as lateral epicondylitis, tennis elbow is an inflammation of the tendons that join the forearm muscles on the outside of the elbow. When these muscles and tendons are overused and repeat the same motion over and over again, pain and tenderness occur on the elbow.
But don’t let the name fool you. Tennis elbow doesn’t just affect tennis players. Clinical Director of the Brigantine Physical Therapy Center Kris McCarthy, MPT (pictured) sees many cases of tennis elbow and warns that it can develop in multiple ways. “Any time you extend the wrist repetitively and forcefully, like flicking the oar in crew or loading and unloading groceries, you may be at risk,” says McCarthy.
Some occupations may even make people more susceptible to tennis elbow. Painters, plumbers, carpenters, autoworkers and cooks all develop the condition more frequently than the rest of the population. This is due to the repetition of certain movements and occasional heavy lifting that are necessary.
Once a person has tennis elbow, there are a variety of ways to treat it. “The traditional approach is cross friction massage. It breaks up the scar tissue and pain patterns and improves flexibility in the muscle,” says McCarthy. “After that, the focus turns to strengthening through eccentric strength training, which can be done with weights or therabands or manually.”
Another technique that is gaining interest is called dry needling. It involves inserting a series of needles into the muscle to break up scar tissue and improve circulation, as well as break the pain cycle. The RICE approach can also help, which consists of rest, ice, compression and elevation to minimize pain and tenderness.
McCarthy says, “Compression bands are helpful, and many therapists recommend kinesiotape, which is more comfortable than a compression band and lasts 3 to 5 days, even with showering.”
At Bacharach, our team of therapists can help ease the pain of tennis elbow and get you back into the game. For information on how Bacharach can help, visit Bacharach.org.