The human elbow is a complex joint that connects the upper and lower arm. Its muscles and connective tissues play a critical role in many motions and in some cases even affect the performance of the hands. When the elbow is compromised, injured, or suffering from decreased range of motion the complications can have a serious impact on your overall quality of life.

What Is Tennis Elbow?

Tennis elbow is a layman’s term used to describe a condition known as “Lateral Epicondylitis.” This is a painful condition where the tendons in the elbow are overloaded. It is usually associated with repetitive motions of the wrist or arm.

What Causes Tennis Elbow?

While tennis players and athletes are indeed more prone to developing tennis elbow, it is not just limited to them. Many professions and hobbies can increase your risk of developing a tennis elbow. This includes plumbers, painters, carpenters, butchers, and even anglers who fish frequently with bait casting rods.

It’s also worth noting that individuals between 30 to 50 years of age also tend to be more likely to develop tennis elbow. Especially if they work in a profession with a lot of repetitive motion in the wrist, forearm, or elbow.

What Are The Symptoms Of Tennis Elbow?

Most tennis elbow sufferers complain of pain and discomfort where the tendons of your forearm muscles attach to a bony bump on the outside of your elbow. In many of these cases, the discomfort can gradually radiate to the forearm and wrist. Some people with tennis elbow also complain of reduced range of motion in the elbow related to stiffness, inflammation, or pain.

Discomfort can also start to affect ordinary daily activities. This might include things like shaking hands, turning a doorknob, or firmly grasping a coffee mug. Many people who struggle with decreased range of motion caused by tennis elbow will also complain about difficulty dressing, such as putting on a shirt or tieing their shoes.

Can Tennis Elbow Be Treated At Home?

Most minor to moderate cases of tennis elbow can be treated at home with simple rest and over the counter anti-inflammatory pain medications. Some people benefit from using a sling to help rest the affected elbow.

When Should I See A Doctor About Tennis Elbow?

You should strongly consider making an appointment with your doctor if your suspected case of tennis elbow causes significant pain when grasping, twisting, or lifting objects. Especially if these activities are related to your daily profession. You should also see your doctor if your attempts to self-treat tennis elbow at home has not improved symptoms after 10 days to two weeks.

How Does A Doctor Diagnose Tennis Elbow?

If your doctor suspects you have a tennis elbow, they will start the diagnostic process with a thorough physical examination of the elbow, as well as the performance of the surrounding muscles. This typically involves flexing your arm, wrist, and elbow to see where it hurts.

If your doctor is concerned about other complications, such as a severe limitation in your range of movement, they might also order an X-ray or an MRI or rule out other problems.

Can Physical Therapy Help Treat Tennis Elbow?

If your doctor diagnoses you with tennis elbow and there are no other complications in the joints, muscles, and surrounding connective tissues, they will likely prescribe physical therapy. In many of these cases, you might be referred to a physical therapist who will teach you various exercises that you can do on your own. You might need to follow up appointments to monitor your progress.

Common Physical Therapy Exercises For Tennis Elbow

The following exercises are commonly prescribed by physical therapists to help reduce tennis elbow discomfort and improve range of motion.

  • Finger stretches with therapy bands
  • Grip exercises to strengthen forearm muscles
  • Downward wrist stretches
  • Wrist curls with the palm up
  • Elbow curls with the palm down
  • Forearm twists

Can A Cortisone Shot Help Treat Tennis Elbow?

Some moderate cases of tennis elbow might experience some short-term benefit from a corticosteroid injection, or cortisone shot. Though they aren’t always recommended for cases of tennis elbow where additional complications are involved, or another treatment plan is needed later on to achieve long-term relief. Your doctor will help you understand if a cortisone shot is right for your particular case of tennis elbow.

When Is Surgery Needed To Treat Tennis Elbow?

Your physician might recommend surgical treatments for tennis elbow if you have been dealing with significant pain for more than 6 months, and rehabilitation exercises have failed to provide you with significant symptom relief. Surgery might also be necessary if your job calls for a lot of repetitive lower arm motions.

Tennis elbow surgery has an 80 to 90% success rate. The procedure can be performed on an outpatient basis. It is designed to carefully remove damaged tendon and muscle tissues from the lateral epicondyle bone. Once this is done, the surgeon will then reattach it to the healthy surrounding tissues. Sutures will then be applied to the incision and dressed with a sterile bandage.

How Long Does It Take To Recover From Tennis Elbow Surgery?

You will need to wear a sling or a splint for roughly 7 to 10 days after tennis elbow surgery. After that, you can have the stitches removed and your doctor will evaluate whether you need to continue using a splint. When they determine that you are ready, the splint can be done away with, and you can start the process of rehabilitating the muscles and connective tissues in the elbow and forearm.

Just how long it takes for you to fully recover after tennis elbow surgery will vary depending on your age, your general health, and of course, how diligent you are with performing your rehab exercises.

Most people spend the first two to three months after surgery working on regaining functional strength and mobility in the forearm and the elbow. After that, you can expect your entire arm to be back to normal about four to six months after tennis elbow surgery.