Lateral epicondylitis, also known as tennis elbow, is a condition characterised by pain and inflammation in the tendons that attach to the bony prominence on the outside of the elbow called the lateral epicondyle. Despite its name, tennis elbow is not limited to tennis players and can affect anyone who engages in repetitive motions of the wrist and arm.
The primary cause of lateral epicondylitis is repetitive stress on the tendons that control the movement of the wrist and fingers. Activities such as tennis, painting, carpentry, typing, and repetitive lifting can lead to micro-tears in the tendon fibres, causing pain and inflammation. Other contributing factors may include poor technique, inadequate warm-up or stretching, improper equipment, or muscular imbalances.
The most common symptom of lateral epicondylitis is pain and tenderness on the outer side of the elbow, which can radiate down the forearm. The pain may worsen with activities involving gripping, lifting, or wrist movements. Weakness in the affected arm and a decreased grip strength may also be experienced. In some cases, individuals may feel discomfort when extending their wrist fully.
The treatment of lateral epicondylitis typically involves a combination of conservative approaches aimed at reducing pain and inflammation, promoting healing, and improving function. Here are some commonly recommended treatment options:
Rest and activity modification: The first step is to avoid activities that aggravate the condition. Resting the affected arm and modifying or adjusting the technique or equipment used in repetitive activities can help relieve stress on the tendons and promote healing.
Ice and heat therapy: Applying ice packs to the affected area can help reduce inflammation and pain. Heat therapy, such as warm towels or heating pads, may be beneficial in promoting blood circulation and easing muscle tension.
Pain medications: Over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen or naproxen, can help relieve pain and reduce inflammation. However, it's important to consult a healthcare professional before taking any medication.
Physical therapy: A physical therapist may prescribe specific exercises to stretch and strengthen the muscles and tendons of the forearm.
It's important to note that the recovery time for lateral epicondylitis varies from person to person. It's crucial to follow the recommended treatment plan, including any prescribed exercises and modifications to activity levels, to prevent recurrence and promote long-term healing. Consulting a healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis and personalised treatment plan is essential for optimal management of lateral epicondylitis.