What Is Tennis Elbow?
Tennis elbow, also called lateral epicondylitis, is a condition involving the tendons that attach to the outside bone of the elbow. It is very painful, and caused by overuse of the joint. It was given its name because tennis, along with many other sports and activities, can cause this condition. Tennis elbow is an inflammation of the tendon. As it progresses, it weakens the tendon, leading to weakness and pain. This is especially noticeable while doing any activities that require the affected muscle, such as lifting, gripping, or playing tennis.
Your elbow is made of three bones: the humerus in your upper arm, and the radius and ulna in your forearm. The end of the humerus has bony bumps called epicondyles. The bump on the outside is called the lateral epicondyle. Lateral epicondylitis (tennis elbow) involves the tendons called extensors in the forearm that attach to the lateral epicondyle.
What Causes Tennis Elbow?
There are three main factors in the development of tennis elbow: overuse, activities, and age.
Tennis elbow is often caused due to overuse and damage of one particular muscle. The extensor carpi radialis brevis (ECRB) helps to stabilize the wrist while the elbow is being held straight. When the ECRB is used too much, it can be damaged. Microscopic tears can form in the tendon where it attaches to the lateral epicondyle. This leads to inflammation and pain.
The type of activities you do also has an impact on whether you are at risk of developing tennis elbow. This condition is more common in athletes, but it is not limited to people who play tennis. The activities that lead to tennis elbow can be work related or recreational. Jobs such as painting, plumbing, and carpentry all have higher risk levels for getting tennis elbow, because of the amount of repetitive motion in the forearm.
Most people who develop tennis elbow are between the ages of 30 and 50. However, people both older and younger are also at risk if they have other risk factors, such as playing tennis incorrectly or doing a job that calls for repetitive forearm motion. The condition equally impacts men and women.
How to Avoid Tennis Elbow
One of the most important ways to prevent tennis elbow is to build up the strength in your arms, upper back, and shoulder. Remember to stretch these areas frequently, to keep them flexible and to avoid straining your elbow. Try not to move your arm in the same way repeatedly. Switch arms while playing sports such as tennis or golf, if you can. There may be a trainer who can teach you how to use alternate moves to reduce strain on your elbow.
Make sure the equipment you use in sports and at work is the correct size for you. Using equipment that is made for someone bigger can put a lot of tension on your elbow.
Here are some tennis-specific things you can do to avoid tennis elbow:
- Work with a professional player to develop the correct hitting technique, which will remove stress from your joints
- Consider using a two-handed backhand instead of a one-handed backhand if it’s causing you pain
- Use a racket grip that is soft enough to provide a cushioning effect
- Don’t grip the racket too tightly and relax your grip between points
Make sure to stretch before and after playing a game or doing any other repetitive activity.
The worst activity you can do
The most aggravating activity you can do is palm down lifting (lifting straight up in a pronated position). Think of reaching far out in front of your body to lift up a heavy plastic grocery bag with a gallon of milk inside.
Instead, turn your hand palm up when lifting, and lift heavy weight close to your body, not out away from it.