Tennis is a physical sport. Running, jumping, swinging, and sometimes diving on the hard court; like any sport, there are many ways that tennis players can incur an injury. However, there is one injury that is so prevalent among tennis players the injury itself has the word tennis in the name; that injury, of course, is tennis elbow.
While tennis elbow, known medically as lateral epicondylitis, is not limited to tennis players, it is estimated that one third of all tennis players will experience the condition at some point in their lives. Anyone who engages in lifting at the elbow, or repetitive movements of the elbow and wrist, is likely to be susceptible to this condition, so naturally tennis players are at high risk.
The cause of pain from this condition is not a medical certainty, although it is believed that it is caused by small tears of the tendons attaching the forearm muscles to the bone at the elbow joint. It is the muscles of the forearm that are used to cock the wrist back – extensor carpi radialis brevis – that are the suspected culprits in this condition.
So how do you know you have tennis elbow and not some other painful condition? Individuals with this ailment typically feel pain on the outside of their elbow, especially when grabbing an object and cocking back the wrist. The pain is generally more severe when lifting something – although pain while resting should be expected – and it is often described as a pain that radiates down the forearm. Pain from tennis elbow generally starts gradually, although it has been known to have a sudden onset as well.
If you believe that you are suffering from tennis elbow you should consult with your physician immediately. Treatment for this condition is typically noninvasive, and over 90% of patients are successfully treated without surgery. Tennis players can often address the problem through some subtle changes in their equipment and technique.
A good first step is to make sure that you are using a racket with a properly sized grip. Another option is to reduce the tension on your racket strings. That reduction in string tension will soften the impact of the ball, and reduce twisting of the forearm during off-center hits. Lastly, changing your actual tennis stroke can help reduce the negative impacts on your elbow as well. Players who learn to swing without leading the racket with their elbow in a flexed position can often alleviate much of the condition and reduce the likelihood of reoccurrence.
There are noninvasive medical options that can address the pain of this condition as well. Anti-inflammatory drugs are used to combat both pain and inflammation. If a regimen of anti-inflammatory drugs is not successful, cortisone injections are an option that has proven successful for some patients.
However, injections are not always successful and if relief does not come quickly then you are likely not going to be served by continued injections. However, medication is not the only avenue that one can explore when trying to alleviate pain and discomfort in the elbow region. Use of an elbow brace can reduce the strain placed on the elbow during the tennis stroke.
Sadly, if the aforementioned treatment options are not successful then surgery may be the only road to relief. The good news is that surgery has a very high rate of success, and it is only required in a small percentage of patients.