Contrary to popular belief, tennis players are not the only ones who can develop the painful condition known as tennis elbow. The medical term for this condition is lateral epicondylitis, and the condition results from inflammation of the tendons that connect the muscles of the forearm.1
These tendons and muscles can become damaged with prolonged and excessive use, or by simply repeating the same motions over and over again.2,3 Pain and tenderness on the outside of the elbow are the most common symptoms, but athletes of all kinds may be able to avoid this discomfort and continue playing the sports they love.
Here is some useful information about the causes of tennis elbow, who is at risk of developing this injury, and how athletes can stay safe and reach their potential.
Causes of Tennis Elbow
In the most basic sense, tennis elbow is caused by overuse of the elbow joints. Damage is typically caused to muscles in the forearm, such as the extensor carpi radialis brevis, which stabilizes the wrist when the elbow is straightened.4 If left untreated, tennis elbow not only causes pain but also weak grip strength that can affect all aspects of daily life.
Who Develops Tennis Elbow?
The sport of tennis requires constant use of the forearm and elbow, but many other sports require this type of repetitive stress too.1,2,3,4 Individuals who play other types of racket sports, like racquetball, use many of the same muscles as tennis players too. Also, swinging sports, like golf, baseball, and cricket, can lead to lateral epicondylitis. Athletes who participate in archery, martial arts, rowing, and rock climbing may also be at a higher risk.
Other non-athletes can be prone to tennis elbows such as painters, carpenters, musicians, and plumbers. Surveys have shown that automobile mechanics, chefs, and butchers suffer from tennis elbow more frequently than the general population as well due to the repetitive nature of these jobs. Individuals who are between the ages of 30 and 50 are most likely to develop tennis elbow.5
Preventing Tennis Elbow
Poor practices within these sports can lead to the development of this injury; however, athletes can make changes to prevent or delay the onset of tennis elbow.6 Athletes should receive proper and ongoing training to improve their swings, strokes, and motions. It is also important for athletes to practice extra care while lifting weights and doing strength training exercises to avoid unwanted pressure on the joints that may aggravate existing conditions like tennis elbow. Stretching and yoga can help warm up the muscles and joints to prepare them for strenuous exercise.
Soothing and Treating Tennis Elbow
Fortunately, between 80 and 95 percent of individuals with tennis elbow find success with nonsurgical treatments.3 Fast-acting arthritis pain relief creams like JointFlex can ease the discomfort of tennis elbow without a prescription. Other treatment options include wearing a brace at the back of the forearm, doing strengthening exercises with a physical therapist, and taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicines like aspirin or ibuprofen.2
For severe cases of tennis elbow, steroid injections like cortisone and extracorporeal shock wave therapy may be explored. There are surgical options available, such as arthroscopic surgery and open surgery, but undergoing surgery could cause scar tissue that might be detrimental to an athlete’s performance and career. Athletes who experience persistent elbow pain should consult a physician to discuss recommended treatment options before the pain worsens.
REFERENCES FOR CAUSES OF TENNIS ELBOW AND OTHER ATHLETES AT RISK
1. Liebert, P. L. (2018 June). Lateral epicondylitis. The Merck Manual: Consumer Version. Retrieved October 30, 2018 from https://www.merckmanuals.com/home/injuries-and-poisoning/sports-injuries/lateral-epicondylitis.
2. Tennis elbow. MedlinePlus. Retrieved October 30, 2018 from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000449.htm.
3. Tennis elbow (Lateral epicondylitis). American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Retrieved October 30, 2018 from https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases–conditions/tennis-elbow-lateral-epicondylitis/.
4. Tennis elbow – Lateral epicondylitis. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Retrieved October 30, 2018 from https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/healthlibrary/conditions/orthopaedic_disorders/tennis_elbow_-_lateral_epicondylitis_85,P00925.
5. Verma, N. N. (2015 January 30). Tennis elbow causes and risk factors. Sports Health. Retrieved October 30, 2018 from https://www.sports-health.com/sports-injuries/elbow-injuries/tennis-elbow-causes-and-risk-factors.
6. Top 9 ways to help prevent tennis elbow. Newport Orthopedic Institute. Retrieved October 30, 2018 from https://www.newportortho.com/About-Us/Our-NOI-Blog/2017/March/Top-9-Ways-to-Help-Prevent-Tennis-Elbow.aspx.
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