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REHAB IN MOTION: Tennis elbow? But I Don’t Play Tennis!

Tennis elbow is one of several overuse injuries that can affect your elbow.

Playing tennis is one of the causes; however, many other common arm motions can cause tennis elbow too including using a screwdriver, hammering, painting, and raking. It’s caused by repeated contraction of the forearm muscles that you use to straighten and raise your hand and wrist. The repeated motions, and stress to the tissue may result in inflammation or a series of tiny tears in the tendons that attach the forearm muscles to the bone at the outside of your elbow. Using your arm too strenuously before your elbow has healed can make the problem worse. The pain of tennis elbow occurs primarily where the tendons of your forearm muscles attach to the bony prominence on the outside of your elbow. The bump on the outside of your elbow can be sore to the touch and it can hurt to bend your wrist backwards or try and grip anything heavy. In severe cases the pain can also spread into your forearm and wrist.

Left untreated, tennis elbow can result in chronic pain — especially when lifting or gripping objects. An easy way to test for tennis elbow is to grab onto the back of a chair and lift it off of the ground with both hands. If this test is painful chances are the problem is tennis elbow.  Once you have developed tennis elbow there are several things that you can do to try and treat it. Changing the way that you move is often the most effective and easiest step to take on the road to recovery. Changing the way that you work or play sometimes takes enough stress off of the elbow to allow it to start healing. Getting some help from a physiotherapist with sports technique or workstation set-up is often enough to allow your elbow to start healing.  If this is not enough, specific exercises prescribed by a physiotherapist can help to slowly stretch and strengthen your forearm muscles and stop the process of injury. Manual therapy performed on the elbow in concert with exercises has been shown to decrease the pain of tennis elbow and make it easier to re-strengthen. Tennis elbow straps to decrease the stress through your elbow are readily available at the drugstore, but these are only sometimes effective in decreasing the pain. If your pain is severe and persistent, your doctor may suggest an injection of a corticosteroid medication.

Corticosteroids are drugs that help to reduce pain, swelling and inflammation. However, some recent research has shown that these medications don’t provide much more of a benefit than simply waiting and resting your arm.

Tennis elbow is a very painful and challenging condition to treat, but with a proper rehabilitation program generally the muscles of the elbow can be rebuilt to allow a return to normal activities.

Ben Chatterson is a physiotherapist at Rehabilitation in Motion which has four Island locations including two in Campbell River – Willow Point (250) 923-3773 and Quinsam (across from Save On Foods), (250) 286-9670 – also in Comox Valley (250) 334-9670 and Port Alberni (250) 723-9675. Ben Chatterson works at the Comox Valley Clinic. Visit www.rehabinmotion.com

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