Senior Citizen's Guide digital books
Senior Citizen's Guide to Baltimore

Getting a Grip on Tennis Elbow

Tennis elbow, anyone? Known medically as Lateral Epicondylitis, this painful condition commonly affects men and women of all ages, both on and off the court. What is it exactly? How do you treat it? How can you prevent it from ruining your tennis game? Keep reading.

Cause & Effect of Tennis Elbow

Not to be confused with arthritis of the joint, instability from a ligament tear or a nerve compression syndrome called radial tunnel syndrome, tennis elbow is caused by degeneration of the muscle attachment of the wrist extensor  to the bone of the lateral epicondyle. With continued degeneration, the muscle pulls away from the bone and creates pain.

Despite the common misconception, tennis elbow is not an inflammatory condition but a degenerative process. Without treatment, it will resolve spontaneously, but it may last from six months to two-and-a-half years.

If you have tennis elbow, the pain will worsen when attempting to lift anything with the palm downward. On the tennis court, the condition is caused and exacerbated by leading with your elbow when hitting a one-handed backhand shot.

The other main cause is gripping your racquet too forcefully. Studies from Stanford University found that professionals hold their racquets with one tenth the amount of muscle tension as amateurs. 

Tennis Elbow Prevention

To minimize your chances of injury, choose your racquet wisely. The lighter the racquet, the more stress on the elbow. Don’t use anything less than 10 oz. Next, be sure to have a racquet with an appropriate grip size – not too large or too small.

Other tricks include using a smaller head racquet, loosening the strings and using a dampener to reduce vibration while hitting. It’s also wise not to play two matches consecutively with the same grip wrap.

Once you have the right racquet, don’t skip a crucial step before you start playing. Take the time for a proper warm-up to bring oxygen to your muscles and tendons and build flexibility. Exercising to strengthen and condition the muscles of the forearm and wrist also will help to prevent tennis elbow.

Now you’re ready to play. As mentioned above, avoid squeezing the racquet too hard. Instead, relax your hand and pay more attention to the area of ball contact and not over the net. Although it seems you should focus on the spot where you want the ball to land, doing this actually prevents you from hitting the ball in the middle of the racquet, which then causes more stress on your arm.

Tennis Elbow Treatment

If you have tennis elbow, rest your arm and avoid activities that worsen the pain. Ice the area to reduce swelling and take over-the-counter pain relievers as needed.

If you’re able to play, use a tennis elbow strap or pneumatic arm band, as long as it is not too tight, which can lead to radial tunnel syndrome. At night, wear a “cock-up” wrist splint or carpal tunnel splint to rest the muscle that controls the wrist.

If the pain doesn’t subside, seek medical attention. Cortisone injections can yield dramatic improvement, but the recurrence rate is very high unless the inciting cause is corrected. Most physicians only will give three injections before considering other treatment options.

Blood injections also can help and there is interest in using PRP (platlet rich plasma) injections for recalcitrant cases, but this is unproved technology. Physical therapy is another course of action and you may combine it with the treatments mentioned above. 

If these conservative treatments still don’t help, the last course of action is surgery to remove the degenerative tissue and roughen the bone to allow tendon reattachment. Usually, only 5 percent of the patients require surgery.

The procedure can be done less invasively using an arthroscope; however, there is a higher complication rate so there does not seem to be a major advantage to perform the procedure this way.

Infrequently, 1 to 2 percent, patients may develop an infection, stiffness, pain or numbness after traditional or arthroscopic surgery. Surgery is successful over 90 percent of the time, but it does require nearly three months before returning to tennis.

During this time, you will need to recondition your arm and gradually build up strength. Ease your way back into performing activities on and off the court. Don’t resume your tennis game exactly where you left off. Start slowly to build up to that level.

Overall, tennis elbow is preventable and usually treatable without surgery. Proper tennis mechanics and not squeezing the racquet too hard are the keys. If you have symptoms or are looking for ways to prevent them in the future, don’t hesitate to call on a hand surgeon or a tennis professional for guidance.

Home    Featured Programs    Choose Local Area     Request Information
A JR Media Publication • www.jrmediallc.comSite Index