Treating tennis elbow requires a multi-pronged approach and, most importantly, time.
Tennis elbow, known medically as lateral epicondylitis, is a condition that causes pain on the outside of the elbow. Approximately three percent of the population — primarily those between 30 and 50 years of age — suffer from this condition.
Despite the uncomfortable symptoms associated with tennis elbow, surgery is rarely recommended. Surgery involves removing the diseased, degenerated tendon tissue and is not always effective. In most cases, clinicians opt to work with patients to avoid an operation and treat the condition through other means.
At Florida Hand, our team of medical experts takes a three-pronged approach to the treatment of tennis elbow.
1. Modifying Activities
Tennis elbow occurs when the tendons and muscles located in your forearm become strained as a result of strenuous or repetitive activities. While those who play tennis and other racquet sports are prone to developing the condition, many other daily activities and occupations — including writing, landscaping, and painting — can also contribute.
Changing your daily activities to minimize the use of your elbow can improve your symptoms and give your muscles a chance to rest. Rest is the first and most important step in the healing process, allowing the microscopic tears in the tendon to rebuild. Patients are advised to stop sports or work activities that stress the tendon for up to several weeks or even months. Aspirin and ibuprofen are often used to relieve pain and reduce swelling during this time.
2. Embracing the Brace
While some use the term “inflammation” to describe tennis elbow, degeneration is a more accurate description. Muscles and tendons used repeatedly over a period of time begin to weaken and degenerate (break down), becoming tender to the touch.
In addition to rest, we often advise patients with tennis elbow to wear a brace. A correctly placed brace or splint — one that is centered over the back of the forearm — stabilizes the joint, allowing the muscles and tendons to heal properly. Our team works with each patient to find the best brace for their condition and ensure it is worn in a way that maximizes results.
3. Implementing Occupational Therapy
Occupational therapy is a process designed to help patients learn to manage their condition on a daily basis, reduce pain, and live a full life. Patients are often encouraged to see an occupational therapist on a weekly basis, sometimes for several months. During these sessions, the therapist will teach patients how to conduct stretches and strengthening exercises that help them rebuild their muscles and tendons. Patients are often expected to routinely practice these exercises at home to further facilitate the healing process.
An occupational therapist may also conduct ultrasound therapy during appointments. Ultrasound therapy is the use of sound waves to treat medical conditions — including sprains, tendinitis, and tennis elbow. It is designed to relieve pain and, in some cases, promote tissue healing.
Taking the Time to Heal
Response to treatment for tennis elbow can be very slow, sometimes taking up to six months or longer. In addition to the three steps outlined above — modifying activity, wearing a brace, and partaking in occupational therapy — your clinician may recommend anti-inflammatory medications and topical treatments like ice, heat, or creams.
If you think you may have tennis elbow, it’s time to put yourself on the path to recovery. Schedule an appointment with a Florida Hand Center expert today.