Injuries are a common occurrence for all athletes, tennis players included. The term tennis elbow is commonly used, but rarely understood, so we decided to explain it for our patients and readers:
Tennis elbow or lateral epicondylitis is a condition in which the outer part of the elbow becomes sore and tender. It is commonly caused by non-inflammatory, chronic degenerative changes in the tendon that attaches the forearm muscle extensor carpi radialis brevis (ECRB) to the elbow. It is most prevalent in middle age and in men more than women. Tennis elbow is a misnomer because most people who get this disease do not play tennis.
Signs and Symptoms:
– Pain on the outer part of the elbow
– Point tenderness over the lateral epicondyle—a prominent part of the bone on the outside of the elbow
– Pain from gripping and movements of the wrist, especially wrist extension and lifting movements
– Pain from activities that use the muscles that extend the wrist (e.g. pouring a container of liquid, lifting with the palm down, sweeping, especially where wrist movement is required)
– Morning stiffness
To diagnose tennis elbow, the physician performs a battery of tests in which he places pressure on the affected area while asking the patient to move the elbow, wrist, and fingers. X-rays can confirm and distinguish possibilities of existing causes of pain that are unrelated to tennis elbow, such as fracture or arthritis. Medical ultrasonography and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) are other valuable tools for diagnosis but are frequently avoided due to the high cost. MRI screening can confirm excess fluid and swelling in the affected region in the elbow.
Evidence for the treatment of lateral epicondylitis before 2010 was poor. There were clinical trials addressing many proposed treatments, but the trials were of poor quality.
A 2009 study looked at using eccentric exercise with a rubber bar in addition to standard treatment: the trial was stopped after 8 weeks because the improvement using the bar for therapy was so significant. Based on small sample size and a follow-up only 7 weeks from commencement of treatment, the study shows short term improvements. This along with other studies allowed doctors to conclude that approximately 80-95% of all tennis elbow cases can be treated without surgery. However, long term results have not yet been determined.
In some cases, severity of tennis elbow symptoms mend without any treatment, within six to 24 months. Tennis elbow left untreated can lead to chronic pain that degrades quality of daily living.
The sports medicine physicians at Palm Beach Sports Medicine are experts when it comes to diagnosing and treating tennis elbow as well as any other sports injury. The first step is to contact the office in West Palm Beach or Jupiter by calling 561-845-6000