Tennis elbow, or lateral epicondylitis, is a result of repetitive activities that cause the tendons in your elbow to become overloaded. You may have heard of tennis elbow and shrugged it off. “I barely ever play tennis,” you say, “I’m not at risk.” Wrong. In fact, 95% of those who suffer from tennis elbow are not tennis players at all. The condition got its name because the affected muscles are similar to those that one would use when swinging a tennis racket. Tennis elbow can not only be annoying but also worrisome as your livelihood may depend on performing motions that put you at risk for the condition. If you’re experiencing discomfort in your elbow, it’s important to first locate the source and reason for the pain.
What causes tennis elbow?
As we covered above, tennis elbow is the result of repetitive movements similar to how you pull your wrist back when you swing a racket. This overuse causes an inflammation of the muscles and tendons that extend the wrist and can be a real nuisance. There are a lot of activities that can lead to tennis elbow, even sitting at a desk all day with incorrect posture. Those with manual jobs, such as plumbers or a construction workers, are more susceptible to tennis elbow as their work tasks may require them to repeatedly perform movements that cause wear on the elbow tendons. The pain can interfere with everyday activities and is usually felt on the outside of the elbow, right where it meets the forearm.
When should I seek treatment for tennis elbow?
It’s a good idea to seek out treatment if you’re experiencing elbow pain that has lasted for more than a few days. Symptoms of tennis elbow can include pain when you extend the elbow or lift up the wrist, swelling where the tendons attach, feelings of heat or tingling in the hands, or weakness in the arm. At-home remedies such as icing the irritated area may help to control short-term pain symptoms although that is likely not enough to address the root of the issue. Seeking treatment is the most efficient way to ensure and full recovery and prevent the risk of recurring pain.
How can physical therapy help my tennis elbow?
When you come in to see a physical therapist for tennis elbow, they’ll first locate the source of your pain and determine the severity. They’ll work with you to perform stretching exercises specific to your pain, customizing treatments that consider your unique body and incorporate any daily tasks or occupational activities that you frequently perform. They may also use techniques such as:
• Dry Needling: The use of small, acupuncture needles to create a lesion in the tissue, producing a little trauma in the body that sends an inflammatory response to the affected area. Dry needling sends all of the healing properties in your body to this area to help it heal.
• Instrument Assisted Soft Tissue Mobilization (IASTM): Your PT will feel for fibrotic tissue or adhesions in the soft tissue in the muscle or tendon. They’ll look for areas of tightness to relieve them and mobilize the tissue.
• Contract/Relax Techniques: Intended to help the muscles become less tense or to address any tightness or spasming muscles.
While there are other tennis elbow treatment methods available, physical therapy can be the best solution for a personalized plan of care that incorporates your work/daily duties into recovery. Your PT will work the affected muscles and prescribe strengthening/stretching exercises so that the problem doesn’t come back. They’ll also help to strengthen secondary areas of the body, such as weakened forearm muscles or poor posture, that may be contributing to your tennis elbow pain. As you work one-on-one with your physical therapist, they will ensure that they uncover the root of your issue and correct it for the long-term.
Tennis elbow recovery time will depend on the severity of your issue but generally, you’ll see an improvement pretty quickly after beginning treatment. With regular physical therapy treatments, your tennis elbow will likely be fully recovered after 8-10 weeks.
Physical therapists can provide the necessary tools to prevent and/or treat tennis elbow, allowing you to return to your favorite activities pain-free and stronger than ever! To learn more about how to prevent tennis elbow or to eliminate any current discomfort, book a physical therapy assessment today.
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“When I came in to Therapydia, I had tremendous elbow pain. I wanted to get back into the gym but more than that, I just wanted to be pain-free. I can’t believe how far I’ve gone from “surviving” pain to thriving with increased mobility, balance, and strength. I’m back in the gym and far beyond where I thought I could be. Huge thanks to Therapydia.”