Pain around the elbow and forearm can make everyday life very difficult. What can you do to help?

Tennis elbow, or lateral epicondylitis, is an overuse injury relating to the muscles in the forearm. These muscles are referred to as the “extensors” and are responsible for straightening the wrist and moving the fingers. It is for this reason that it is often associated with tennis! However, there are many people who get it without playing any racquet sports at all. 

Common movements which use these muscles are:
– Typing
– Racquet sports
– Gripping
– Pushing open doors
– Lifting heavy bags
– Opening a jar
– Turning a key in the door

Tennis elbow symptoms:
– Pain over the outside of the forearm
– Tightness in the forearm muscles
– Inability to straighten the elbow due to pain
– Pain when using the hands in the above activities 
– Pins and needles may be present in more severe cases

What actually causes it in the first place?
Tennis elbow is a repetitive strain injury, meaning you get it from doing a certain activity too much.
This can happen very quickly or can gradually build over time. In most cases, patients will normally be able to think of a reason. Examples may include:
– Moving house and doing lots of lifting or decorating 
– Starting a new sport
– Spending more time than usual typing or using a mouse
– Carrying very heavy bags over a long period of time
– Starting a new arm strengthening exercise in the gym

When the muscles get overloaded, small tears can occur within the tendon as it attaches onto the bone on the outside of the elbow. This can cause inflammation and therefore, pain. 

When this happens over a long period of time, the muscles struggle to work 100% and so can become weak and inefficient. This in turn makes them even more susceptible to overload and injury. This is why so many people end up in a cycle of pain – rest – pain – rest. 

What can you do to help?
1. REST: Try to identify the activity that aggravates the pain and aim to rest from it as much as possible
2. ICE: For pain relief
3. ANTI-INFLAMMATORY MEDICATION: If you are able to take this, it can be a good pain reliever.  There are also some gels available that can  have a similar effect.
4. RESISTANCE EXERCISES: Whilst it is important to rest from the aggravating activity, it is crucial that we aim to try and get the muscles stronger as soon as the pain allows.
A simple exercise is to place your other hand on top of the affected hand with the wrist in a neutral position and gently try to lift your affected wrist up against your other hand. Keep the movement static (no movement) and try to hold for 10 seconds. If this feels okay, aim to repeat 5-6 times and do this a few times a day. 
5. SELF MASSAGE: Gently massaging the forearm muscles can help with pain relief. 
6. KEEP ACTIVE: Try to keep using the arm as normally as possible and within your pain limits. This will help to prevent further deconditioning of the muscles. 

This condition can resolve on it’s own. However, if you are still experiencing pain a number of weeks after trying the above, it is important that you have it looked at in more detail by a professional. 

Physiotherapy can be useful to firstly reduce the pain and educate you on how to help your arm recover. We can then tailor the rehabilitation to suit your goals. Whether this is getting back to competitive sport or simply being able to lift a full kettle without pain – we can help. 

Thank you for reading and feel free to get in touch if you think this is something you need some help with!

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