Tennis elbow, also known as lateral epicondylitis, is a condition in which the outer elbow region becomes tender and sore. It is a common cause of elbow pain, especially in the case of individuals who play racquet sports like tennis or squash. However, this injury can afflict anyone because of an overuse of that particular part of the elbow. This condition generally occurs when the tendons connected to the outer part of the elbow get inflamed. These tendons help in moving the wrists backwards.
Tennis elbow refers to a degeneration of these tendons because of repetitive use. Very often, other similar problems such as Golfers elbow and bursitis are mistaken for tennis elbow. Although the causes of these conditions are similar to those of a tennis elbow, the site of tenderness and pain are usually different. The most prominent symptom of tennis elbow is pain and swelling around the outer part of the elbow. Although for most orthopedic problems an x-ray is the first step in diagnosis, this does not hold true for a tennis elbow. Most patients who suffer from tennis elbow usually have normal x-ray results. Similarly, MRI scans are also usually normal but in some cases, there appear abnormal changes in the inflamed tendons. Many times doctors recommend specific tests such as the nerve conduction study, especially when there is confusion in the initial diagnosis. It is important to rule out other causes of elbow pain such as radial tunnel syndrome and arthritis, so that the doctor can make a correct diagnosis of tennis elbow.
Symptoms of Tennis Elbow
People suffering from tennis elbow generally experience elbow pain that increases while grasping objects and cocking the wrist backwards. Although the onset of pain is generally gradual, it could also come suddenly. Tennis elbow very often affects people in the age group of 35-65 years and it affects both men and women in equal numbers. Another interesting fact about this condition is that in almost 75% cases, tennis elbow affects the dominant arm. The signs and symptoms of tennis elbow may vary in intensity from person to person and some of common symptoms of this condition include:
- Pain in the outer part of the elbow
- Tenderness and inflammation in the outer part of the elbow
- Pain on movement especially while lifting objects
- Wrist pain while grasping objects
- Pain radiating downward into the forearms
- Elbow stiffness in the morning
- Difficulty in fully extending the forearm
- Weakness in the wrist
The symptoms of tennis elbow usually occur because of minute tears in parts of the tendons and muscle coverings. Once the initial injuries heal, these tears occur again and cause hemorrhages along with the formation of rough and granulated tissue and deposits of calcium in the surrounding tissues. The injuries leak out a protein called collagen, which leads to inflammation. This cuts off the flow of blood and pinches the radial nerve that controls the muscles in the hand and arm. This gives rise to the above-mentioned symptoms of tennis elbow.
Causes of Tennis Elbow
One of the major causes of tennis elbow is repetitive strain or overuse of the outer part of the elbow. This is usually the result of repetitive backward extension of the wrist against resistance. Activities like squash, tennis or badminton usually cause this kind of wrist extension but day to day activities could also be a cause. Some of most common causes of tennis elbow include:
- Bad backhand technique while playing racquet sports like tennis
- A small or inadequate racquet grip
- Playing with a racquet that has very tight strings
- Playing racquet sports with heavy and wet balls
- Manuel jobs that involve extensive use of the elbow such as typing, painting, plumbing, carpentry and gardening.
The onset of tennis elbow is either sudden or late in most cases. Sudden exertion such as in a late backhand in tennis can cause tennis elbow. In this action, the wrist extensors get strained causing microscopic tears in the tendons. On the other hand, a late onset occurs within 24-72 hours after a strained wrist extension.
Remedies for Tennis Elbow
Conservative and non-surgical treatments can cure tennis elbow in almost 90% cases. Rest is the best treatment for this condition along with other conventional treatment options. One of the best home remedies for tennis elbow is to apply ice on the affected elbow 6 times a day for at least 20 minutes. However, never apply the ice directly but rather wrap it in a washcloth or thin towel. It is also helpful to use a supportive strap to reduce strain on the affected tendons. As a cure for tennis elbow, doctors generally recommend anti-inflammatory drugs or steroid injections for pain relief. Physiotherapy is also helpful in reducing inflammation and pain caused by tennis elbow. Other than conventional dugs and medications, there are also a number of natural remedies for tennis elbow treatment at home. Some of these simple home remedies are as follows:
- Calendula oil massaged into the affected elbow helps in providing effective pain relief for those suffering from tennis elbow. Massaging the elbow twice a day is a good home cure for tennis elbow.
- Similarly, you can also use avocado oil for massaging the affected elbow for relief from inflammation and pain.
- Alternative hot and cold compresses are a great way to relieve pain and swelling caused by tennis elbow.
- One of the most effective home remedies for tennis elbow is potato pack. Baked potatoes wrapped in a cloth and applied to the aching elbow are a great way to reduce swelling and pain.
- Applying a ginger poultice is another good home remedy for tennis elbow. You can also drink ginger tea 3 times a day while suffering from this condition. Ginger has strong anti-inflammatory properties that are beneficial in alleviating the symptoms of tennis elbow.
- One of the useful herbal home remedies for tennis elbow is white willow bark. It contains salicin, which is a powerful pain reliever and can effectively treat conditions like tennis elbow, carpal tunnel syndrome, rheumatism and arthritis.
Diet for Tennis Elbow
In addition to the home remedies mentioned above, there are a number of natural ingredients that you can include in the daily diet, to get relief from the symptoms of tennis elbow. The right diet not only helps alleviate symptoms of tennis elbow but also expedites the process of healing.
- For effective tennis elbow treatment at home, you can include celery in your daily diet. Fresh celery juice and celery extracts are both good cures for tennis elbow. Consuming warm water with 8-10 drops of celery extract is an effective remedy for reducing pain and inflammation caused by tennis elbow.
- Similarly, omega 3 fatty acids are equally effective in providing pain relief. Fish such as mackerel and salmon are rich sources of omega 3 fatty acids and should therefore be included in the daily diet while suffering from this condition. Flax seeds are another good cure for tennis elbow.
- Foods such as spinach, broccoli, cabbage, whole grains, nuts, blueberries and green tea should be included in the daily diet.
- Pineapples eaten whole or fresh pineapple juice is also beneficial for tennis elbow treatment. Pineapples are rich in vitamin C that helps in building collagen. They are also rich in bromelain, which contains powerful anti-inflammatory properties that can reduce pain and swelling caused by tennis elbow.
- Foods like milk, cheese and eggs are rich sources of minerals and vitamins that should be a part of your daily diet while suffering from tennis elbow. These nutrients can help in the recovery of the inflamed tendons and muscle coverings.
- Low fat protein food such as chicken helps in building new tendon material thereby effectively treating problems like tennis elbow.
- Barley also contains anti-inflammatory properties that can alleviate the painful symptoms of tennis elbow.
Suggestion for Tennis Elbow
In order to maintain fitness levels while suffering from tennis elbow, it is important to exercise regularly and rehabilitate the affected parts of the body. However, avoid overuse of the elbow and consider aerobic exercises like walking, running or jogging that are good for overall fitness. Gentle stretching exercises can help in rehabilitating the affected elbow joints and some of the good exercises for tennis elbow include gentle wrist extensions, flexes and rotations. You can also do wrist curls with the help of light dumbbells followed by light elbow extensions. Isometric exercises such as squeezing a ball, are also a good cure for tennis elbow. Once the pain and inflammation subside, you can continue doing stretching exercises and strengthening activities to cure this condition. It is also important to use the correct techniques while playing sports to prevent recurrence of tennis elbow. Alternative therapies like yoga are also beneficial for treating tennis elbow. Yoga exercises like Pawanmuktasana, Trikonasana, Sarvangasana, Vajrasana and Nadi Shodhana pranayama are all helpful in preventing and treating tennis elbow.
- Vicenzino B, Cleland JA, Bisset L. (2007). "Joint Manipulation in the Management of Lateral Epicondylalgia: A Clinical Commentary". Journal of Manual & Manipulative Therapy 15 (1): 5056.
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