Tennis elbow

Q: I have tennis elbow yet I don’t play tennis. What causes tennis elbow and what can be done is for it?

A: The term tennis elbow is misleading because the overwhelming majority of people suffering from it are not tennis players. In fact, less than 5% of all reported cases of tennis elbow are related to playing tennis.

Tennis elbow results from strained muscles of the forearm. It is caused by repetitive arm, elbow and wrist movements. In particular, activities that require the wrist to be repeatedly extended or the hand turned outward (i.e., turning a screwdriver) can bring about tennis elbow.

People with tennis elbow feel pain on the outside (lateral) upper portion of the forearm just below the bend in the elbow. This is the area where muscles and tendons attach to a bony “bump” (epicondyle) on the elbow. Gripping, carrying or lifting objects will trigger pain. Even grasping objects as light as a coffee mug or a toothbrush can be painful. A person with tennis elbow may also experience weakness of the forearm muscles.

Some cases of tennis elbow disappear after simply modifying the activities that produce elbow pain and swelling. For example, when tennis elbow does occur in tennis players, it is probably due to a faulty tennis stroke. Learning proper form will help prevent a recurrence of pain. To avoid or recover from tennis elbow, it is also essential to use proper technique when playing other sports including golf, baseball and bowling or doing work such as carpentry, gardening, assembly-line work or other activities involving repetitive arm movements.

The most effective treatments for tennis elbow include resting the arm until the pain subsides, massaging the forearm muscles and tendons (using a technique called cross friction massage) and applying ice to the inflamed area. Stretching and strengthening exercises for the forearm are required to resolve most cases of tennis elbow.

In addition, a chiropractor may need to adjust joints in the elbow, wrist, shoulder or neck to relieve pressure on the nerve supply to the elbow and forearm. Some doctors may recommend the use of an elastic band to be worn around the forearm just below the elbow. This band is believed by some doctors to reduce pain by countering stresses on the elbow. Other doctors question the value of this device.