Preventing and treating tennis elbow

With Wimbledon around the corner, you might be feeling inspired to pick up a tennis racket. However, as with any sport, you should make sure your body is prepared for the range of movements and pressure it can place on your joints. 

Tennis elbow is a common condition among, you guessed it, tennis players. However, it can also be caused by many other activities. It occurs when the tendon that connects the muscles of your lower arm to your upper arm bone (humerus) becomes inflamed. 

It’s caused by repetitive movement, which can put stress on the tendon, causing microscopic tears and inflammation next to the bony lump (epicondyle) on the outside of your elbow. Thankfully, tennis elbow is a condition we commonly treat with physiotherapy or shockwave therapy at our Twickenham practice. 

Read on for more information about causes, prevention and treatment for tennis elbow.

Symptoms of tennis elbow

Pain from tennis elbow can range from mild discomfort to severe pain, even when your elbow is not moving. The pain may be felt:

  • on the outside of your elbow; it may shoot down the forearm when lifting or when bending your elbow
  • when gripping small objects e.g. a pen
  • during a twisting motion e.g. when opening a jar
  • when fully extending your arm.

Causes of tennis elbow

Primarily, tennis elbow is caused by the repetitive use of your forearm, such as when swinging a racket. Any kind of action that includes twisting your wrist, gripping, bending your elbow or using your forearms can cause tennis elbow, especially if you repeat the activity for long periods or your body is not used to such movements.

Other causes of tennis elbow include:

  • sports that involve throwing, such as discus or javelin
  • using hand tools, such as gardening shears, scissors or a screwdriver
  • using tools for carpentry or plumbing
  • weightlifting
  • knitting or sewing
  • playing the violin or cello.

Preventing tennis elbow

The key to preventing tennis elbow or further damage is to rest your arm. If you’re playing a sport for the first time, then it could be due to improper technique or using the wrong kind of equipment. 

When you’re playing tennis, make sure you have a racket with the right grip size and look into professional coaching to ensure you’re using the right technique e.g. that your posture is correct when taking a swing. 

Stretching and warming up your muscles gently before a match will prepare your arm and help protect against damage too.

You can also try:

  • increasing the strength of your forearms with exercises advised by a physiotherapist
  • using lightweight tools or tools with bigger grip sizes
  • wearing an elbow brace support to help prevent further damage.

Treating tennis elbow

Tennis elbow can last from 6 months to 2 years, depending on how much you use your arms.

Simple treatments, such as resting your arm, applying a cold compress against your elbow a few times a day and taking painkillers will help reduce your swelling and pain. If your injury is work-related, speak to your employer about changing your activities or the way you work.

Physiotherapy and massage can also be applied to the area to alleviate pain and tension while stimulating blood flow. A physiotherapist can also show you exercises to increase your range of movement and help strengthen your forearm muscles. 

Shockwave therapy is another treatment option. This non-invasive treatment uses high-energy shockwaves, which are passed through the skin to help relieve pain and promote tissue healing in the area.

In rare cases where symptoms don’t improve, surgery may be an option. This involves removal of the damaged area of the tendon.

If you think you may have tennis elbow, you may want to consider physiotherapy or shockwave treatment. Give us a call on 0208 898 1213 and we’ll get you back into the swing of things.

Remember, for a more specific diagnosis and treatment advice, you’ll need an assessment from a professional.