As a Doctor of Physical Therapy for the past six years at the Fit Stop, elbow pain is probably the second most common arm ailment I treat (following issues related to shoulder pain). This annoying pain in the elbow is usually due to something called “lateral epicondylitis” or “tennis elbow”. What is odd, however, is that only a few of these patients have actually developed this condition from playing tennis!
So what’s the deal? What is lateral epicondylitis and how can PT help this limiting condition? Today on the Fit Stop Blog Toby Bluth, PT, DPT discusses tennis elbow – what it is, why you get it, and what physical therapy can offer you to help you feel better.
What is it?
To begin with, any word with “itis” tacked on at the end refers to an inflammatory state. So in this case, epicondylitis refers to inflammation of the epicondyle, which is the bony part on the outer (lateral) part of the elbow. This bony prominence is the muscle attachment site for most of the muscles that extend your wrist (like accelerating a motorcycle). This can be a very painful, annoying and down right frustrating ailment that can last for months with a high recurrence rate even after initial improvement of symptoms. As the name suggests, the pain is located on the outer part of the elbow, and is usually quite painful to the touch.
Why does it happen?
The lower part of the arm has very interesting anatomy. To begin with, the group of muscles on the underside of our forearm, that help with our gripping activities, are much more powerful than the group of muscles on the top part of the forearm. As a result, sports or any daily activities that require a lot of time spent gripping (such as tennis), will force the muscles on top of the forearm to work very hard to counteract the force of the grippers. With repetition after repetition, those muscles will get over-used, tired and eventually, inflamed. Inflammation equals pain. Usually, the damage done to the muscles is minor enough that a little rest and ice will kick that inflammation right out of there. However, with prolonged use and more serious injuries, the muscle fibers can tear resulting in the formation of scar tissue. Scar tissue is painful, and it is also weak tissue. That weakness if not addressed, can cause recurring problems for a long, long time. It is at that point that my services as a doctor of physical therapy will come into play.
What can PT do for your Tennis Elbow?
If you’ve been dealing with that nagging elbow pain for some time now, it is probably time to come see us at the Fit Stop. There is a lot that can be done to help this pain. However, the results don’t generally come super quickly, especially if the pain has settled in at least a few weeks. A typical treatment for your tennis elbow pain will generally consist of the following:
* For starters – some kind of a warm-up, heat or ultrasound work great to allow for a good increase in blood flow to these tissues prior to the following treatments:
* Manual therapy – probably the most important part of treatment as most likely that nasty scar tissue will need to be worked out. A variety of approaches may be used depending on the preference of your PT. ASTM (Assisted Soft Tissue Mobilization – massage with tools) or some type of deep massage technique will most likely be used. Though pretty painful, this helps get quicker results.
* Stretching – important to help normalize the affected tissue and again speed up that healing process
* Strengthening – at the appropriate time, and when pain starts to subside, instruction in very specific exercises will help strengthen up those weak forearm muscles and help prevent annoying recurrences.
WHAT ABOUT HOME EXERCISES??
Tennis elbow, though very limiting and painful at times, doesn’t have to keep you from doing what you need to do, and more importantly, what you love to do. Stop by the Fit Stop today at one of our four convenient locations and let us help you get back on track. Click the links below to ask more questions or schedule a visit with us: