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  • Writer's pictureIan Thornley

How can it be tennis elbow if I don't play tennis?

One of the common things I hear from patients if I use the term tennis elbow.


Tennis elbow is the common term that is often used for pain on the outside of the elbow. While tennis can certainly contribute to this common condition it is by no means the only way you can develop it.


So What Is Tennis Elbow?

Tennis elbow, also known as lateral epicondylitis, is a common condition that can cause pain on the outer part of your elbow. Despite its name, you don't have to play tennis to get it. It can happen to anyone who repeatedly uses their forearm muscles, especially those involved in gripping and wrist extension.


Anatomy of Lateral Epicondylitis (Tennis Elbow)

To understand tennis elbow better, let's briefly explore the anatomy. Your elbow joint consists of three bones: the upper arm bone (the humerus) and the two forearm bones (radius and ulna). The lateral epicondyle is a bony bump on the outer part of the humerus where many tendons attach. These tendons are the attachment point for the muscles of the forearm which are responsible for wrist and finger extension, and when they're overused, they can lead to tennis elbow.


What Causes Tennis Elbow?

Tennis elbow often develops due to repeated strain on the tendons attached to the lateral epicondyle. Some common causes and risk factors include:

Increased use: Activities like tennis, golf, gardening, or repetitive manual tasks can strain these tendons over time or when activity levels are significantly increased

Age: Tennis elbow is more common in individuals aged 30 to 50 as tendons naturally become less flexible and more prone to injury.

Weak Muscles: If the forearm muscles can't provide adequate support for the tendons for the tasks they are being asked to do, they may become more susceptible to injury.

Medical Conditions: Conditions like rheumatoid arthritis or diabetes can weaken tendons, increasing the risk of tennis elbow.


Assessment and Treatment

When you come to see me, we'll start with a thorough assessment to diagnose tennis elbow. This includes:

Medical History: We'll discuss your symptoms, previous injuries, and daily activities.

Physical Examination: I'll examine your elbow, forearm, and wrist for pain, swelling, and range of motion. I'll also check for tender areas around the lateral epicondyle.

Functional Assessment: We'll look at how your symptoms affect your daily activities, particularly those that worsen the pain.


Once we've assessed your condition, we'll create a personalized treatment plan. This may include:

♦️Rest and modifying activities that worsen the symptoms.

♦️Ice and compression to reduce pain and inflammation.

♦️Osteopathic treatment to alleviate pain and improve mobility.

♦️Prescribed exercises to strengthen forearm muscles and improve flexibility.

♦️Rehabilitation Exercises


Here are three simple early-stage rehab exercises that can help you on your road to recovery:

✨Wrist Extensor Stretch:

Extend your affected arm in front of you with the palm facing down.

Use your other hand to gently bend your wrist downward, holding for 15-30 seconds.

Wrist Flexor Strengthening:

Hold a lightweight dumbbell or resistance band with the affected hand.

Rest your forearm on a table with your wrist hanging over the edge.

Flex your wrist upward, then slowly release it. Perform 3 sets of 10-15 repetitions.

Grip Strengthening:

Squeeze a soft rubber ball or stress ball with the affected hand.

Hold the squeeze for 5 seconds, then release. Repeat this 10-15 times.


Recovery and Returning to Activity

Recovery from tennis elbow takes time and patience. Depending on your condition, it may take several weeks to months. Here's a general timeline but bear in mind that everyone is different and rates of healing can vary:


❄️Acute Phase (0-4 weeks): Rest, ice, and gentle exercises.

🎽Subacute Phase (4-8 weeks): Gradually introduce more advanced exercises.

👟Recovery Phase (8-12 weeks): Continue exercises and osteopathic care as needed.

🎾Return to Sport Phase (12+ weeks): Gradually reintroduce sports activities.


Once again, remember, every person's journey is unique, and your recovery may vary. The key is to stay committed to your treatment plan, attend follow-up appointments, and communicate any concerns with me.


Tennis elbow is manageable, and with the right care and exercises, you can regain full function of your arm. If you suspect you have tennis elbow or are already undergoing treatment, know that I am here to help and guide you through every step of your recovery journey.

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