What is Tennis Elbow?

Tennis elbow or Lateral epicondylitis is a condition that causes pain in outside of your elbow or along the top of your forearm. The pain is due to the extensors muscles in your forearm (the muscles that bend you hand back, such as in a tennis serve) becoming irritated and inflamed. Commonly this happens due to overuse or repetitive movements.

anatomic view of the elbow

The symptoms of tennis elbow often start gradually, usually beginning with a mild discomfort in the forearm, which then worsens over weeks or even months. Common symptoms are a pain or burning sensation in the forearm and / or around the elbow. You may have noticed some weakness in grip strength, making it difficult to grip small objects or turn door handles etc.

Overuse is the most common cause of tennis elbow and this can happen because the muscles in your forearms get used repeatedly during the day e.g. when typing, making a cup of tea, carrying items, driving etc.  The tendon is the part of the muscle that attaches to the bone and in the case of the extensor tendons it attaches to the outside of your the elbow joint (the lateral epicondyle). If the muscles are too tight and over strained, it can cause microscopic tears in the tendon causing inflammation in the area and it is a combination of these factors that causes the pain and discomfort. These symptoms can be produced by all kinds of activities & sport, as well as work – we commonly see tennis elbow symptoms in plumbers, electricians and painters as well as office workers and photographers. Also tennis elbow symptoms can also occur due to no obvious cause to the patient, which is when it’s important to consider what else could be placing increased demand on the elbow, such as wrist or shoulder issues.

Treatment of Tennis Elbow

Tennis elbow is a self-limiting condition – which means it will eventually get better by itself. There may be things you can do to help speed up the recovery process though:

  • Try resting the arm, or using it slightly less, especially if there is a particular movement or activity that aggravates your symptoms. For example: if you’re playing tennis weekly, it might be beneficial to stop this for a short period of time. Or look to make changes during your day; is your desk set up the best it can be to take extra strain of your arms? Could you split the weight of your shopping differently or carry the shopping with the other arm?
  • Cold compress around your elbow but you can also put it on your forearm too. Always wrap up the ice pack in a small towel to protect your skin. I would recommend doing this for between 5-10 minutes at any one time, but you can repeat this several times throughout a day.
  • Pain medication – such as paracetamol and/or NSAIDS e.g. ibuprofen can provide pain relief from symptoms.
  • Osteopathy! Yes, Osteopaths treat tennis elbow- hooray! We work with soft-tissue techniques (massage) to reduce any tension in the extensors and surrounding muscles. We will also assess the joints in your arm – from your wrist to your shoulder to make sure everything is working as efficiently as possible, and not placing extra strain on the already compromised areas. We also use Western Acupuncture to help reduce the pain in the trigger points in the muscles. We have found this form of treatment very effective.

Tennis elbow can easily become a chronic problem because often the symptoms start gradually and build up slowly. Give our Brighton Osteopath a call today or book online at www.brightosteopathy.org/make-appointment/ to see if we can help you with your tennis elbow symptoms.