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Serving Up Facts About Tennis Elbow

Despite its’ name, “Tennis Elbow” most commonly occurs among people who have never swung a tennis racket, primarily in those ages 30 to 50, usually in their dominant arm. But it can occur at any age. This condition, also known as lateral epicondylitis, is a degenerative process which affects the muscles and tendons on the outside of the elbow. Tiny tears occur in the tendons and muscle coverings due to repetitive stress, resulting in inflammation. Symptoms of pain, weakness and shakiness typically are mild at first, but may progress to severe pain with continued use of the affected joint.

Individuals prone to this injury tend to participate in recreational or work activities that require repetitive motion of the wrist and vigorous or repetitive stress on the forearm. Such activities include painting, hammering nails, excessive use of a screw driver, and gardening. Gripping and lifting objects such as books or coffee mugs may also exacerbate the symptoms.

The best way to prevent tennis elbow from occurring is to avoid activities that require repeated movements of your wrist and forearm. During work-related activities where such movements are unavoidable, try to alternate hands when possible to minimize prolonged stress on either arm. It also helps to strengthen forearm muscles through regular exercise and stretching. The stronger and more flexible the muscles, the less likely one is to develop symptoms.

For those experiencing signs of tennis elbow, non-surgical treatment offers the possibility for vast improvement. At the first signs of pain, it is important to keep the forearm and elbow as still as possible and to use ice at about 20-minute intervals to decrease the inflammation. Wearing a splint for approximately 2 to 3 weeks is ideal. In addition, physiotherapy modalities such as pulsed ultrasound or electrotherapy can be used to increase blood flow to the area, break up scar tissue and facilitate the healing process. Chiropractic adjustments also help correct joint dysfunctions of the elbow and wrist. If severe pain persists despite exhausting all non-surgical methods, consult with your doctor as surgery may be necessary as a last resort.

-by Dr. Kevin Mikalaitis

Published in the Natural Awakenings Magazine (June 2008)
and the Earthly Wellness Blog (August 2008).