Tennis Elbow – Melina Mirzaei, Kinesiologist

What is it?

Tennis elbow is a general term which refers to an overuse injury of the structures in the lateral part of the elbow. More specifically, it occurs when the tendon of one of the forearm muscles, the extensor carpi radialis brevis (ECRB), becomes irritated. This can cause varying degrees of pain, ranging from mild discomfort to pain keeping you awake at night.

How does it happen?

Wrist extension (the position of your hand when giving someone a high five) places a demand on the ECRB muscles and tendon; if the wrist is repeatedly put in this position, the demand may become too high for the tissues to withstand. This can lead to poor blood supply to the tissues, and/or overuse of the muscle, leading to irritation. Repeated wrist extension, especially against resistance, is the main aggravating factor in this condition. However, this condition can also come on suddenly if someone is not accustomed to the movement. Tennis elbow is commonly related to racquet sports and leisure or work activities such as knitting and carpentry.

 How can I prevent it?

To avoid the acute onset of tennis elbow, it is advised to gradually ease into new activities. For example, taking breaks during your first game of squash, or during your first week as a carpenter, can help alleviate the stress on the muscles and tendons in your arm and hand. If you are already accustomed to activities involving repeated and resisted wrist extension, and are feeling discomfort around the elbow, there are a few things to consider. Make sure your racquet grip and weight are well-fitted (for racquet or stick sports), and ensure that you are using proper biomechanics when lifting and holding objects, performing fine motor tasks, or playing sports.

How is it treated?

Treatment for tennis elbow often involves a combination of therapies, with the main goals being pain control, tissue healing and restoring flexibility and strength. These will be accomplished by using a combination of manual and soft tissue therapy, heat or cold, muscle strengthening, and stretching. Rest may be required in some cases. Your physiotherapist can also help you assess and modify any predisposing factors to prevent the problem from recurring.

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