Tennis elbow is actually the common name for elbow tendonitis or tendinosis resulting from overuse due to repetitive motion events. It gets its name from the fact that nearly half of all tennis players eventually suffer from it, but this group makes up less than five percent of all cases. Lateral elbow tendinosis occurs in the outside of the elbow, while medial elbow tendinosis (sometimes called golfer’s elbow) occurs in the inside of the elbow.
Both disorders generally display a gradual onset that worsens over time. Pain may recur only during activity, or may feel dull during rest and sharper during activity. Difficulty fully straightening the elbow is usually noted, and pain may radiate all the way down the arm.
Initial treatment typically focuses on relieving the pain via the RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) method accompanied by painkillers. The goal is to help the pain subside as quickly as possible. However, pain relief is not a cure. The tendon tissue is actually damaged, and this damage must be addressed.
It is not realistic to expect anyone to completely stop using one arm. Bracing allows a return to normal activities by dispersing the damaging forces that would otherwise be absorbed by the elbow. The goal is to provide strong, flexible support that decreases muscle tension and supports the injured tendons while allowing freedom of movement.
In mild cases, bracing may be sufficient. Coupled with frequent rest and ice both before and after activity, bracing allows mildly damaged tendons to heal on their own.
Because they do not have the same rich oxygen and blood supply as muscles, tendons tend to heal slowly. Adequate rest is important, but in this case, rest refers to the absence of abusive activity, not the absence of all activity. Physical therapy provides targeted exercises that increase blood supply to the tendon and improve healing. Rehabilitation exercises also promote strength, flexibility, and endurance, providing a clear path to full recovery.
In some cases, surgical intervention may be warranted. However, pre-surgical physical therapy is highly recommended. An arm that is already strengthened and conditioned will heal from surgery far faster, with a far better long-term prognosis. You will also need to undergo post-surgical physical therapy. In most cases, your arm will be in a sling for three to five days post-surgery before your physical therapy begins.
Although the internet is filled with sample exercises for tennis elbow, it is important to remember that each case is different. Your physical therapist will perform a thorough assessment and prescribe exercises that are specifically targeted to your individual needs. Also keep in mind that you should not try to work through intense pain except under the guidance of your physical therapist. Trust the process, and you can heal in a fraction of the time with a far better prognosis than if you attempt to self-diagnose and treat.
Founded by physical therapy innovator Dr. Joseph Simon, the Manhattan Physical Therapy and Pain Center is a leader in pain relief and injury recovery conveniently located in Midtown Manhattan. We offer several dedicated programs for different conditions, along with the latest innovations in physical therapy for all. If you are ready for the latest treatments for pain or injury, call us today at (212) 213-3480 to learn how we can help.