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Physical Therapy for Tennis Elbow

Your elbow hurts, and your doctor said something about tennis elbow, but you’ve never even picked up a racket. So what is going on?

You may have a condition known as lateral epicondylitis. Most typically, lateral epicondylitis presents as an overuse type injury to the muscles and tendons of the forearm where they attach at the elbow. Lateral epicondylitis is commonly known as tennis elbow.

Anatomy of the Elbow

Your elbow joint consists of the interaction between the upper arm bone (humerus) and the two bones of the forearm (radius and ulna). At the lower part of the humerus, there are two bony protuberances on the medial and lateral sides, and they are named as the medial and lateral epicondyles, respectively. At these points, muscles from the forearm attach that provide control of wrist and finger movements. With repeated use over time, the muscles associated with wrist and finger extension (bringing the back of your hand toward your forearm) can become irritated at the attachment point on the outside of the elbow. This irritation often results in pain and swelling.

Causes of Lateral Epicondylitis

Some common causes for tennis elbow may include typing, using a hammer, painting and other activities that require repetitive motions through the wrist and elbow (like tennis!). The muscles in your forearm also help stabilize the wrist when you hold items, which is why you might also experience elbow pain with activities requiring a strong grip. This condition may seem to start for no particular reason, but more likely than not, there is a repetitive action that you perform on a regular basis in your daily life that may be the culprit.

The symptoms you may be experiencing include:

  • Pain and tightness in your elbow that may occur during, immediately following, or long after activity

  • Pain in elbow that remains constant

  • Tenderness to touch in lateral elbow

  • Achiness in forearm and possibly wrist

  • Swelling or warmth in lateral elbow or forearm

  • Difficulty or pain with reaching and grasping items

  • Difficulty with grip strength

PT for Tennis Elbow

Currently, research supports utilizing physical therapy as a primary treatment option for tennis elbow. Your physical therapist will take time to review the full history of your symptoms, and from there they will perform several physical assessments including range of motion and strength measurements for your arm. Working with your therapist, you will establish a personalized treatment plan to address your symptoms and the underlying cause of those symptoms. The initial goals for treatment include reducing pain, improving range of motion, and temporarily modifying aggravating activities.

Following this, your therapist will begin to progressively add strengthening exercises for the muscles surrounding the elbow, forearm, and wrist to promote optimal healing. They may also utilize modalities such as an ice pack to combat inflammation topically. In addition to the physical treatment, your therapist will provide you with education on returning to activity without re-injury. With the help of your physical therapist, you can expect to regain full function and return to your prior activities without pain.

Some episodes of lateral elbow pain may be coming from an irritated nerve in your neck, so don't be surprised in your PT assesses your cervical range of motion. If your symptoms change during neck motion, you therapist may consider your cervical spine as a source of your elbow pain and prescribe exercises for your neck.

Lateral epicondylitis is one of, if not the most common overuse injuries of the elbow, and a physical therapy assessment and treatment plan are the first steps to recovery. If you find yourself experiencing any of these symptoms, please give our office a call at (518) 439-5006 to schedule an appointment, and allow our us to help you quickly return to your previous level of mobility and function.


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