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Symptoms, Causes & Treatment of Tennis Elbow

The elbow is a hinged joint that is made up of three bones – the humerus (upper arm), the ulna (forearm on the outer side) and the radius (forearm on the inner side). The ends of the bones are covered with cartilage which has a rubber consistency that absorbs shock between the bones where they meet at the joint.

The bones are held together with ligaments that form the joint capsule, which is a sac of fluid that surrounds and lubricates the joint. Tendons attach muscle to bone, such as the biceps tendon and the triceps tendon.

Causes of Tennis Elbow

Pain in the elbow is relatively common and can be due to a range of factors. Tennis elbow is most often caused by overuse of the forearm, such as a repetitive or strenuous activity putting too much strain on the area. If the muscles and tendons in the forearm are strained, inflammation and little tears can develop near the bony lump on the outside of the elbow.

It is always important to obtain a correct diagnosis for any pain and when it comes to pain in the arm a sports physiotherapist will focus on a few key things to determine whether an injury is due to tennis elbow.

Symptoms of Tennis Elbow

Typical symptoms of tennis elbow to look for are:

  • Pain typically comes on gradually over a period of time, rather than being caused by one particular event.
  • Pain is always felt at the outside of the elbow and can refer down through the forearm as well. Pressing on the area can result in a sharp pain.
  • Pain is usually worse upon waking or following a period of rest.
  • Repetitive or prolonged lifting is affected and activities that need the arm outstretched will be worse. Functions like holding a cup of coffee or lifting a saucepan can cause pain, as can lifting weights and racquet sports.
  • Grip strength can be reduced significantly, causing trouble holding onto objects.
  • Recent activities where there has been a sudden increase in load is likely to have triggered elbow pain. For example, a full day of gardening where it has been a long time since using those particular tools and performing those actions.

Physiotherapy Treatment for Tennis Elbow

Physio for elbow pain will cover two main aspects – immediate treatment to help settle the pain followed by strengthening to regain function in the arm.

The team of qualified and experienced physios at Melbourne Sports Physiotherapy in St Kilda, Blackburn and Essendon are experts at elbow injuries. They will do a thorough assessment of your injury and provide some advice to help the pain.

Tennis Elbow Pain Management

This may include strategies such as load management, to ensure the arm is supported as much as possible so daily tasks can be completed. An elbow brace can be useful for this, especially when certain activities can’t be avoided such as your job. Dry needling can be an effective way to reduce the pain and shockwave therapy can help promote the regeneration of tendons.

Once full elbow movement is achieved and the pain is only mild, treatment will move into the strengthening phase. At this point a sports doctor may be consulted if deemed necessary.

Tennis Elbow Strengthening

Strengthening the tendon is a critical part of treatment to regain full function for holding and gripping objects. Your physio will recommend specific exercises for this which may include using dumbbells, theraband and special resistance bars.

The best rep range of elbow exercises is 8-12 which is effective for improving strength but light enough to reduce the chance of any pain flaring up. Reps should be slow and controlled, at least 2 seconds on the way up and 2 seconds on the way down. Exercises should be completed 3-4 times per week for optimal recovery.

A little pain may be experienced, and your physio will monitor the pain levels to ensure they don’t get too high. As long as further injury is avoided, some discomfort is alright.

Recommendations will also be given to help prevent further recurrences of tennis elbow in the future, such as how to deal with repetitive actions in your daily life or support options that can be used at times.

Melbourne Sports Physiotherapy is committed to getting you moving pain free as soon as possible. Don’t put up with nagging elbow pain any longer. Give them a call to chat to a friendly physio or make a booking online.

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