Pain while moving your arm doing normal activities can be stressful. There are many possibilities for diagnosing your condition, but here’s a condition that you might want to know about, especially if you work a job or do activities that require you to make repetitive motions with your arms.
What is this condition?
Tennis elbow is a condition that causes pain in the area outside of your elbow. The tender muscle becomes tender, meaning it's highly susceptible to being painful when moved or touched in any way.
In clinical terms, tennis elbow is known as lateral epicondylitis. Lateral epicondylitis happens when tendons, the connective tissue that attaches muscle to the bone, are overused. The overuse can come from motions you do with your wrist and arm that are repetitive, such as people who do plumbing, painting, construction, butchery, and specific types of sports.
The pain is caused by the tendons in your forearm's muscles attached to the bump of bone you can see and feel outside of your elbows. That pain can extend and be felt in the areas of your wrist and forearm.
It’s called tennis elbow because tennis players use the same motions with the same arm while playing their sport. But despite its name being associated with a sport, tennis elbow isn’t a condition unique to athletes or casual tennis players.
You’ll notice the pain traveling through the lower parts of your arm when you grip small objects, bend or lift your arm, or when you twist your forearm when you turn a door handle or try to open a jar.
What causes the pain?
The main cause of tennis elbow is the overuse of the tendons attached to your elbows. If the muscles in that specific area are used frequently, they become prone to strain, which causes inflammation and small tears that develop close to the bony bump or the lateral epicondyle on the outer part of your elbow.
If the pain is felt on the inner side of your elbow, it’s a condition called the golfer’s elbow.
What are the symptoms?
The only symptoms would be the pain you’ll feel that ranging from the bump outside your elbow going to your wrist. It may cause you to experience difficulties in doing daily activities such as shaking hands, turning doorknobs, gripping an object, or when you hold a coffee cup.
The pain can be uncomfortable, especially if you need specific arm movements for your job.
Who is at risk?
People at risk for developing tennis elbow are not dependent on age. You can have this condition even as a teenager, especially if you engage in sports or other recreational activities that require repetitive arm movements.
Another risk factor is your job. If you’re working one that involves the same arm motions to be executed again and again, you’re more likely to overuse your tendons and develop tennis elbow.
Employing poor sports techniques such as tennis, badminton, squash, and other sports that require you to use rackets and use similar strokes will also increase the chances of tennis elbow.
When should you see a doctor?
The pain caused by tennis elbow should go away after you temporarily refrain from doing the activities that caused the condition for a few days. But if the pain doesn’t disappear after an adequate amount of rest, it’s best to call in and visit your general practitioner.
Your general practitioner will assess your elbows for tenderness and swelling, book you for the necessary tests such as flexing your wrist muscles, stretching out your fingers, and many more.
Depending on test results, tennis elbow pain can be diagnosed as an effect of nerve damage, but that would require further screening. You’ll need to go through an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) or an ultrasound scan for your doctor to verify.
How is tennis elbow treated?
In most cases, tennis elbow can be treated by resting the affected area for a few days. But some methods can help speed up your recovery.
While resting your affected arm, you can use a cold compress and hold it against your elbow for a few minutes per day to minimize the pain.
Painkillers are also helpful in pain reduction, along with NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs). In serious cases, physiotherapy is recommended. This will involve acupuncture, massaging, and manipulating the area causing the pain, which will help you improve your arm’s condition. If the pain doesn’t go away, surgery can be an option to remove the damaged or inflamed area of the tendon.
The condition can last between six months to two years, but in nine out of 10 cases, a full recovery is made within a year.