Tennis elbow is a condition that affects the forearm around the outside of the elbow, this is known as the ‘common extensor area’. This tendon is part of a group of tendons that all meet at the ‘common extensor area’ and are responsible for lifting the hand up in the air/backwards.
Tennis elbow is thought to occur because of small changes to the tendon. It is due to overload being placed through the tendons after heavy or repetitive activities. Common complaints begin with gripping, writing and twisting movements of the forearm, as well as lifting, especially with the palm facing down.
Tennis elbow can occur at any age, most commonly we see it present in people aged 35-55. The majority of people who develop this condition do not play tennis. It is most common in workers or athletes who have to complete a movement multiple times gripping/other repeated wrist action.
Signs and symptoms
- Tenderness on the outside of the elbow.
- Morning stiffness of the elbow with persistent aching.
- Soreness of the forearm muscles.
- Elbow pain is worse when grasping or holding an object (a sign that active inflammation is present because of the tendinitis)
The most common symptom of tennis elbow is recurring pain on the outside of the upper forearm, just below the bend of the elbow. Pain may also be felt further down the arm, towards the wrist.
Pain can occur when the individual lifts or bends the arm. It is also felt while performing basic actions, such as writing or when gripping small objects. Tennis elbow can cause pain when twisting the forearm. This can be noticeable when turning a door handle or extending the forearm fully.
Self-Managing Tennis elbow
Steps for reducing your symptoms if you are struggling with tennis elbow.
- Look at what activities you complete day to day (workstation, desk, tools) and try to modify or adjust them. You will not cause further damage to the tendons if you continue to use them although this may result in an increase in pain.
- Try to avoid gripping to hard when possible. Having a loose grip will help reduce symptoms further
- Gripping, carrying, lifting or grasping activities should be completed with thumbs facing upwards. This position will limit the amount of stretch placed on the forearm muscles and in particular limits the stretch caused in the common tendon area. As well as this if your job is desk based using a thumb mouse or trackball for computer work can help reduce symptoms.
- Massage the area with ice for a maximum of fifteen minutes in each hour, do not apply ice directly to the skin.
- Use anti-inflammatory, non-steroidal or ‘cold’ gels or creams, which can be rubbed into the painful area.
- Take painkillers (you may need to speak to your GP or pharmacist about which painkillers are suitable).
- Use a tennis elbow brace. You may find this is helpful to ‘offload’ the area and allow you to continue with normal activities. Braces can be purchased from internet suppliers or from some chemists
What to do next?
If these steps for managing tennis elbow do not change the nature or intensity of your pain, you should visit a physiotherapist.
A full assessment and treatment from a physiotherapist will allow the recovery to be faster and more specific to fit your individual needs.