Tennis elbow occurs when the extensors muscles in your forearm become inflamed. This is often because of overuse.
You have two bones in your forearm- your ulna & your radius. Your extensors muscles are the ones that attach to the outside of the elbow, these are the muscles that extend your wrist & fingers. You have another group of muscles in your forearm, which are called your flexor tendons and non-surprisingly these are the muscles that flex your wrist & fingers.
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, or over a specific area on the outside of the elbow joint & a weakness in grip strength.
There are lots of structures within a small amount of space and they do a lot of work in our day-to-day lives. Typing, writing, carrying items, drinking a cup of tea- these muscles will be working throughout these tasks. But they are also used when playing sports, especially racquet sports- hence the name tennis elbow. So because of the amount of work these muscles do, it’s easy for them to become inflamed and then once inflamed it can be difficult to get rid of the symptoms.
Some of the Causes of Tennis Elbow:
Overuse: this is the most common cause of tennis elbow. When the extensors muscles are weakened due to overuse, microscopic tears can form in the tendon. 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 lateral epicondyle of the elbow joint. These microscopic tears cause inflammation in the area and it is a combination of these factors that causes the pain and discomfort.
Activities: This doesn’t have to be tennis! It could also be because of activities related to your work. Tennis elbow commonly occurs in plumbers, electricians and painters. Manual jobs like this use the arm muscles a lot and often for long periods of time.
It can also occur because of no apparent reason, with no obvious repetitive injury.
So what can you do about Tennis Elbow?
There are lots of things you can do for tennis elbow – fear not! The first thing you can try is to rest the arm, or if you no what is aggravating the symptoms you can try stopping that (if that’s possible!)
I would also recommend putting some ice on to the forearm. 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.
Osteopaths also treat tennis elbow- hooray! We work with soft-tissue techniques to reduce any tension in the extensors muscles. We might also work on other muscles in the arm- such as your flexors, biceps, triceps and up into the shoulder. We will also assess the joints in the arm to make sure everything is working as efficiently as possible, and not placing strain on already compromised areas.
Tennis elbow can easily become a chronic problem because often the symptoms start gradually and build up slowly & in many cases people don’t know that anything can be done with it except for rest.