What’s the story with tennis elbow?
If you’re a human on planet Earth, then you know someone with tennis elbow. It’s common, painful and super preventable. But despite its prevalence, not too many people know the hows and whys of this disabling condition. Elbow guru, Andrew Alexander, explains more.
Tennis elbow is the common name of an overuse condition where the tendons of the wrist, that extend the hand and fingers, are overloaded. The full name, lateral epicondylalgia can be a mouthful.
Like any repeated stress injury, it is usually the multiple small stresses that accumulate over the course of days to weeks and the tendon tissue does not have the ability to adapt to the increase workload. Instead, an initial pain and swelling reaction occurs, causing weaker grip and reduced tolerance to hand related tasks. If the initial phase is not managed, this tendon structure becomes altered, disorganised, and eventually degraded.
Once degraded, the condition will more likely persist and become sorer with less stimulus (like holding a plate or sipping a tea).
Another reason why pain can be severe or persisting in this is it’s close proximity to the radial nerve (one of 3 major nerves leading to the hand). Just treating the tendons may not improve the neural sensitivity.
What can I do about it?
As with most injuries, early diagnosis and treatment is key. The plan usually, will be to identify the provocative activities and manage the load this places on the tendon. Hands on therapy, taping, bracing, learning about nerve glides and dry needling can also be effective in settling the acute problem.
If the elbow pain has been persisting, strengthening is mandatory and without it, the tissue will most likely remain in a degraded state. Simple holding, or isometrics, can be a good starting point, then progressing into resistance through functional tasks. Your physio will be able to help you find the appropriate amount of loading for your elbow, and progress accordingly.
If your elbow is hurting or not getting better as quickly as you thought, get in touch!
Written by Andrew Alexander