What Is Tennis Elbow and How Can You Prevent It?
Repetitive use injuries cause tens of thousands of people to require orthopedic care each year. One of the most common types of repetitive use injuries involves the elbow joint. So-called “tennis elbow” can be painful and often bothers people for years before they get proper help. Taking measures to prevent tennis elbow allows you to continue engaging in the activities you love without having to limit your everyday functioning.
Anatomy of the Elbow Joint
The elbow joint involves three bones: the humerus (upper arm bone), radius (forearm bone that connects to the thumb) and ulna (forearm bone that forms its outer edge, connecting to the pinkie finger). The elbow includes a variety of muscles, tendons and ligaments that keep the joint stable and allow it to perform its hinging action.
What Is Tennis Elbow?
Orthopedic specialists call tennis elbow by the scientific name “lateral epicondylitis.” This is because it involves the lateral epicondyle, the bump that is present on the outside of the elbow. When the tendon connecting the muscles of the forearm to the bone becomes stretched, it leads to lateral epicondylitis. Symptoms of tennis elbow include:
- Pain or tenderness on the outside of the elbow. This typically comes on gradually and increases over time.
- Pain when squeezing objects, such as shaking hands with someone else.
- More severe pain when opening a jar, using tools or lifting objects.
- Worse pain on the dominant side.
Common Causes of Tennis Elbow and How to Prevent It
As the name suggests, playing tennis is a common cause of tennis elbow. However, anyone can develop this orthopedic problem. Overuse of the forearm causes stabilizing muscles to become weaker, causing the tendon to form tiny tears. Thus, any activity that heavily engages the forearms, such as tennis, bowling, gardening, golfing, vacuuming, carpentry or assembly line work can lead to tennis elbow. In fact, an estimated 1 to 3 percent of American adults will develop tennis elbow at some point in their lives.
If you routinely perform activities that engage the forearms, it is possible to take preventative measures to avoid developing tennis elbow. Stretching arm muscles before working out can prevent this problem. Additionally, work on gradually building muscle in the upper arms, shoulders and upper back to take pressure off of your forearms. Finally, switch hands whenever possible to prevent overuse of your dominant side.
If you do develop tennis elbow, act right away by contacting Southeast Orthopedic Specialists to get an accurate diagnosis and individualized treatment planning.