What is Tennis Elbow?
Acute Tennis Elbow is an injury to the muscles that extend the wrist and fingers. The site of tennis elbow is typically the lateral epicondyle, a bony bump on the outside of the elbow where muscles attach.
Tennis Elbow symptoms that have lasted more than 6 weeks are considered to be sub-acute and beyond three months, as chronic tennis elbow.
Tennis Elbow Symptoms?
Typically the Tennis Elbow sufferer will experience pain when performing gripping tasks or resisted wrist/finger extension. Pain can also be present when the muscles are stretched. There will be tenderness directly over the bony epicondyle, and there may be trigger points in the wrist muscles.
Some tennis elbow sufferers will also have neck stiffness and tenderness, as well as signs of nerve irritation. Most elbow movements will be pain-free, despite that being the area of pain.
What Causes Acute Tennis Elbow?
Acute Tennis Elbow is caused by damaged muscle tissue at the point it anchors to the arm bone at the elbow. It occurs when more force is applied to an area than the normal healthy tissues can handle.
Common Tennis Elbow Causes include:
Unaccustomed hand use. eg painting a fence, hammering, lots of typing.
Excessive gripping or wringing activities
Poor forearm muscle strength or tight muscles
Poor technique (this may be a poor tennis shot)
In some cases such as Chronic Tennis Elbow, this can occur due to the soft tissues being in poor health, which are easily injured. Inflammation follows the injury, which leads to swelling and elbow pain.
What Causes Chronic Tennis Elbow?
Chronic Tennis Elbow is associated with degenerative changes in the muscle tissues located at the epicondyle. Although for a long time this was thought to be related to inflammation from overuse, this is now known to be incorrect.
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Chronic Tennis Elbow is NOT due to INFLAMMATION!
Testing of Chronic Tennis Elbow sufferers has shown no evidence of the chemicals normally associated with inflammation. Instead, there is an increase in chemicals associated with pain transmission in the nerves. This is coupled with changes in the blood supply, and changes in the coordination of the muscles when using the hand and wrist. You also see degenerative changes in the extensor tendon, where the tendon structure starts to break down.
There is also evidence that longstanding forearm muscle imbalances can distort your elbow joint position and result in chronic tennis elbow pain. This results in decreased ability to perform normal elbow activities and reducing elbow and grip strength.
Referred Pain from your Neck can mimic Tennis Elbow
A significant percentage of tennis elbow sufferers may feel pain in the lateral elbow, but not actually be experiencing tennis elbow. There is a high incidence of lateral elbow pain that is referred to your elbow from a cervical spine (neck) injury.
The most common neck joint that refers to your lateral elbow is C-5 C-6, which transmit their pain signals along the radial nerve.
Your radial nerve may also have reduced neural mobility, which can cause symptoms similar to tennis elbow.
It is extremely important to have your neck and upper limb neurodynamics assessed by an experienced physiotherapist to confirm or exclude any neck dysfunction or neural tension. Failure to do so will result in a lack of symptom improvement and the development of chronic tennis elbow pain syndrome.
Who Suffers Tennis Elbow?
Tennis Elbow occurs commonly in the community. It is present in 40% of all tennis players (hence it's named) and 15% of people working in repetitive manual trades. It can occur at any age, however, sufferers are generally between the ages of 35 and 50.
Tennis Elbow Treatment
Pilates has been shown to be effective in the short and long-term management of tennis elbow.
Your rehab team aim to achieve a:
Reduction of elbow pain.
Facilitation of tissue repair.
Restoration of the normal joint range of motion and function.
Restoration of normal muscle length, strength and movement patterns. (Of both the primary muscles and their supporting counter parts eg the triceps and the biceps)
Normalization of your upper limb neurodynamics.
Normalization of cervical joint function.
There are many ways to achieve these and, following a thorough assessment of your elbow, arm and neck, your Instructor will discuss the best strategy for you to use based on your symptoms and your lifestyle. Results are typically measured through patient feedback and measurement of pain-free grip strength.
Treatment can include gentle mobilization of your neck and elbow joints, muscle stretches, neural mobilization, massage and strengthening. reference
I wish you all the best of luck on your rehabilitation journey and would love to help as much as I can!