Physical Therapy for Tennis Elbow (Part 1)

Tennis elbow, or lateral epicondylitis, is a painful condition of the elbow caused by overuse. Tennis elbow is an inflammation of the tendons that join the forearm muscles on the outside of the elbow. The forearm muscles and tendons become damaged from overuse – repeating the same motions again and again. This leads to pain and tenderness on the outside of the elbow.

Tennis elbow symptoms may include:

  • Pain that radiates from the outside of your elbow into your forearm and wrist
  • Pain when you extend your wrist
  • Forearm weakness
  • Pain that gets worse over weeks or months
  • A painful grip during certain activities, such as shaking hands or turning a doorknob
  • An inability to hold certain objects, such as a coffee cup

Left untreated, tennis elbow can result in chronic pain – especially when lifting or gripping objects. Using your arm too strenuously before your elbow has healed can make the problem worse.

There are many treatment options for tennis elbow. In most cases, treatment involves a team approach. Primary doctors, physical therapists, and, in some cases, surgeons work together to provide the most effective care.

Exercises. Your doctor or a physical therapist may suggest exercises to gradually stretch and strengthen your muscles, especially the muscles of your forearm. Once you’ve learned these exercises, you can do them at home or at work.

Orthotics. Your doctor may also suggest you wear straps or braces to reduce stress on the injured tissue.

Corticosteroids. If your pain is severe and persistent, your doctor may suggest an injection of a corticosteroid medication. However, these medications don’t provide a clear long-term benefit over physical therapy exercises.

Surgery. If other approaches haven’t relieved your pain and you’ve been faithful to your rehabilitation program, your doctor may suggest surgery. Your doctor will generally recommend surgery only if you have persistent pain and you’ve tried other treatments for longer than six months. Only about one in 10 people with tennis elbow needs surgery.

Photo Credit: Axle

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