Very brief intro to tennis elbow
Tennis elbow, medically known as lateral epicondylitis, is a common overuse injury affecting the tendons on the outer side of the elbow.
It is estimated to affect 1–3% of the adult population each year with up to 50% of all tennis players developing symptoms at some point.
Despite its name, it’s not exclusive to tennis players. Repetitive motions and strain from activities like gripping, lifting, or sports can lead to this condition. It manifests as pain and tenderness around the muscles and tendons of the elbow joint, hindering daily activities and athletic performance.
Common signs and symptoms of tennis elbow
Common signs and symptoms of tennis elbow include:
- Pain and tenderness: Around the outer part of the elbow joint, occasionally extending down into the forearm muscles
- Weak grip: Difficulty in gripping or holding objects, especially with force
- Pain during activities: Discomfort while performing activities that involve wrist extension or gripping, such as shaking hands, playing tennis, lifting objects, or turning a doorknob
- Stiffness: In the elbow joint and occasionally forearm muscles, especially after periods of rest or in the morning
- Difficulty with daily tasks: People with tennis elbow can have challenges with simple tasks like lifting a cup, turning a key, or opening a door due to elbow pain and weakness
Recognising these symptoms is crucial for timely intervention and effective management to treat tennis elbow.
Pain relief for tennis elbow
Pain relief for people with tennis elbow initially involves education and activity modification so continual irritation is reduced.
Due to current research and poor long-term effectiveness we no longer recommend:
- Steroid injections
- Anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
At our West London clinic we will guide you in understanding and managing your symptoms of tennis elbow, offering a clear strategy to reduce pain so that you can get back to enjoying the things that you love to do, including playing tennis.
Treatment of tennis elbow
Tennis elbow treatment will vary depending on how long you have had symptoms. Typical treatment at our West London clinic for tennis elbow includes:
- Strengthening exercises
- Shockwave therapy
- Activity modification
- Manual therapy
Exercises for tennis elbow
The mainstay of successful treatment for tennis elbow involves a progressive loading programme of the forearm muscles, in particular the wrist extensors. At our West London clinic physio for tennis elbow follows a 4 step exercise programme of the forearm muscles involving:
- Isometric loading
- Heavy slow loading
- Functional loading
- Specific loading
Strengthening exercises may not be isolated to the forearm muscles but may also focus on the muscles around the shoulder blade, trunk and lower limb.
What should I not do if I have tennis elbow?
To help treat tennis elbow and reduce pain avoid repetitive gripping motions, heavy lifting, sports and physical therapy that exacerbate symptoms.
Should I have a steroid injection for my tennis elbow?
At our West London clinic we recommend avoiding steroid injections. Current research indicates they give short-term relief, if any and their long-term effectiveness is poor in tennis elbow treatment.
What is the common treatment for tennis elbow?
Common treatment for tennis elbow to help relieve pain includes rest, physical therapy with specific exercises targeting elbow strength and flexibility, manual therapy, biomechanical assessment, and education on ergonomic practices and pain management to prevent recurrence.
What really helps with tennis elbow?
To help reduce pain and symptoms of tennis elbow targeted exercises to strengthen the affected forearm muscles, alongside activity modification, proper ergonomic techniques, and manual therapy, significantly aid in alleviating tennis elbow discomfort and promoting long-term healing and function improvement.
How long does a tennis elbow take to heal?
The healing time for tennis elbow treatment varies based on its severity, individual factors, and adherence to treatment. Mild cases might improve in 3 months, while more severe instances may take 9-12 months of consistent treatment and rehabilitation to relieve pain and functional recovery.
How many times a day do I need to do my exercises?
Successful treatment for tennis elbow will be determined on adherence to your rehab protocol, in particular strengthening of the forearm muscles. Although most exercises only need to be done once and not multiple times a day, the difficulty is performing them consistently over a 3-12 month period.
What happens if tennis elbow goes untreated?
If left untreated, tennis elbow can lead to persistent pain, decreased arm strength and mobility, and difficulties in performing daily activities or participating in sports. Chronic untreated cases may worsen, potentially leading to long-term tissue damage, increased pain, and prolonged recovery when finally addressed. Seeking timely treatment can prevent complications and facilitate quicker recovery.