Picture of tennis elbow tendon

Tennis Elbow and Elbow Pain

The most common type of elbow pain is known as Tennis elbow or golfer’s elbow. It is an overuse injury which results from putting excessive strain on the muscles and tendons which make up the elbow.

The pain can last for months, and is especially painful when the tendon that anchors to the bone is touched or bumped. The name given to this injury seems to indicate that it can only be a result of either tennis or golf. However, any activity which leads to the repetitive movement of the hand, arm, and especially the elbow joint, can lead to this injury. Some of the typical sports and activities that cause the injury include:

  • Crossfit
  • Home workouts (Pull-ups, Dips, push-ups, etc)
  • Racket sports
  • Hockey
  • Wrestling
  • Swimming
  • Baseball
  • Canoeing

All activities that force you to move your elbow repetitively are a potential cause of the injury.

Understanding the Elbow Joint

A good understanding of the configuration of the elbow joint is the first step in understanding how injuries occur and how they can be prevented.

If you straighten and fold your elbow, you will realize that it has three bumps. The strain on two of the three bumps is what leads to elbow pain:

• The medial epicondyle: this bump is located in the inner side of the elbow. It holds and controls the muscles located on the front of the forearm. When this bump is interfered with, you will have a hard time curling your wrist up. If this is the bump in pain, it is known as a golfer’s elbow.

• The lateral epicondyle: You can easily locate this bump on the outer side of the elbow. It is connected to the muscles at the back of the forearm and helps you curl your wrist backwards. When you have pain on this bump, it is called a tennis elbow.
What are the common symptoms of a tennis or golfer’s elbow?
No two people experience elbow pains in a precisely similar manner. However, these general symptoms could be an indication that you have serious elbow problems:

• A dull ache when your hand is resting
• Pain when you are making a fist
• Having a weak grip when you try to hold something.
• Pain when you try to open your fingers.
These are a few symptoms that could indicate that a severe elbow problem which needs medical attention.

What are the common causes of elbow injuries?
It is essential to understand the common causes of an elbow injury, especially if they keep recurring. Some of the most common reasons include the following:
• When your forearm muscles lack strength and flexibility
• When your shoulder muscles lack strength
• When your elbow joint is unstable
• When you use poor technique when engaging in sports. It could be that you do not know how to swing the racquet correctly, or you swing the golf club wrong, putting too much strain on the elbow joint.
• When you have inappropriate sporting equipment. For instance, tennis racquets aren’t a one size suits all, and when you use the wrong size, your muscles will strain.
• When you work in a job that forces you to make repetitive movements such as an assembly line, or construction.
• When you continuously lift heavy objects with your hands.
• Irritation of the nerves, or when you have symptoms such as neck pains.

Are there medical conditions that can lead to elbow pain?
It is true that the vast majority of elbow joint problems result from physical activity. However, there are medical conditions which also lead to elbow joint problems. These include:

• Osteoarthritis: This is a condition which leads to the weakening and breakage of the joint cartilage. Sometimes the cartilage breaks away and floats inside the synovial fluid, which causes pain and inflammation.

• Referred pain: there are times when problems with the spine can lead to the nerves that serve the arms getting irritated. The pain which results on the elbow joint is known as referred pain.

• Entrapment of the nerves: The main nerve that services the arm is known as the radial nerve. When this nerve cannot move freely, symptoms such as pain in the elbow result.

• Radiohumeral bursitis: Bursae are small sacs which contain the fluid that lubricates moving parts of the body such as the joints. When there is repeated pressure and injury to the elbow, bursitis results.

• Fracture of the bones: A fall during sports or other activities could lead to cracking of the bones around the elbows, causing pain.
• An avulsion fracture: When an injury is too violent, the muscles can contract too powerfully, pulling a tendon free, along with pieces of bone.

What treatment alternatives are available for elbow injuries?
The treatment offered for tennis elbow and other elbow injuries depends on the cause and the severity of the injury. Here are some of the most common treatment options offered:

• Treatments & exercises that a chiropractor prescribes.
• Soft tissue and ice massages
• Getting the elbow taped or braced
• Anti-inflammation and pain relief medication aimed at helping to cope with the pain but do not offer long term outcome.
• In severe cases, surgery might be recommended.

What is the prognosis for tennis and golfer’s elbow?
When the treatment plan is followed strictly, 90 to 95 per cent of patients with a tennis or golfers elbow improve entirely. Only about five per cent of patients are unable to make a full recovery and may need surgery to correct the problem.

Chiropractic Treatments for Tennis Elbow
Recent research has shown that chiropractic treatment is extremely beneficial when dealing with chronic tennis and golfer’s elbow symptoms. The first thing the chiropractor does is to assess the pain and other symptoms to determine the severity of the condition.

• Stretches & Strengthening: This therapy involves the chiropractor assisting you with various stretches and strengthening exercises. Some involve the use of a very light dumbbell, and specialized rubber bands.

• ART and Graston Technique: The first treatment technique that is used to deal with a tennis elbow is called ART or Active Release Therapy. This therapy involves the use of an instrument for detecting the muscles which have contracted, and resolve the contraction.

• Extracorporeal Shockwave therapy: here, the chiropractor uses shockwaves to look for and resolve adhesions in the muscles and tendons. The waves break up any scarring tissue which could be causing the pain.
These treatment processes can only be carried out by chiropractors who have the training and experience. The number of visits which are needed to make a complete recovery also depends on the severity of the injury. The most crucial thing is to find a competent chiropractor for the process.

How can you prevent tennis and golfer’s elbow?

Many times, non-medical reasons are the cause of these two injuries. To prevent recurrence, you can try these techniques:

• Make sure you stretch, warm up and cool down when exercising or playing sports.
• Learn the proper technique of the sport you are playing and select the appropriate sporting equipment for you.
• Do exercises such as weight lifting to help you strengthen your muscles. A competent chiropractor can recommend the best exercises.
• Modify all tasks that need you to put a lot of pressure on the wrists, the fingers and other parts of the forearm.

Healing a tennis elbow injury can be a slow and frustrating process. However, following the therapeutic elbow pain treatment & exercises recommended by a chiropractor is the one of the best ways to speed up your recovery.

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