Tennis elbow is a very common term used to describe lateral elbow pain. However, people can experience the condition without having ever picked up a racquet. The most up to date term currently is lateral epicondylalgia (LE) with “algia” meaning pain. This reflects the general shift away from it being considered an inflammatory condition in which the tendons around the elbow are inflamed. Rather, it is thought that the tendons become overloaded and sensitisation of the area occurs causing a heightened pain response that in turn causes inhibition of the muscles in the forearm. Inhibition results in a decrease in muscle “strength” which means everyday tasks like lifting a kettle become harder and tend to overload the tendons further causing more pain which causes more inhibition etc. (a vicious cycle of pain).
Even though the area of pain is usually focused around the outside of the elbow, it is actually the tendons of the forearm and wrist muscles that are affected. They come from a common origin point which attaches to the lateral epicondyle of the humerus bone. The implications of these tendons/muscles being affected is that it is mainly wrist and hand movements (e.g. gripping and lifting) and not elbow movements that are most painful.
Usually tendon pain occurs either through an acute injury or abnormal loading of the tendon (e.g. awkward tennis swing or a repetitive task at work). However, LE can also occur with no specific trigger. Around 40% of people will experience some form of LE in their lifetime and it is most prevalent those aged from 35-54 years (Bisset & Vicenzino, 2015). Regardless of the cause, it can be treated successfully to return the sufferer to full function. This will usually involve a loading program for the tendons to gradually improve their capacity and to “re-strengthen” the muscles. Rest alone does not address the muscle weakness or drop in capacity and this results in prolonging the injury. Weakness around the shoulder blade and shoulder muscles also needs to be addressed as the elbow can be the point of compensation for those areas further up the chain.
· Pain in the lateral elbow or into the forearm
· Pain with tasks like lifting and gripping
· Weakness with tasks like lifting and gripping
· Ice over the painful area (usually lateral elbow)
· Massage the forearm muscles (NOT the lateral elbow)
· Avoid poking or prodding the painful area (feels good at the time but really tends to make it worse)
· Use of a brace or taping around the upper forearm
· Avoid aggravating activities
· See your physiotherapist for a gradual loading program
· See your physiotherapist for an upper limb strengthening program
It is always best to be assessed by a physiotherapist to ascertain a correct diagnosis so you can receive the best treatment possible for your specific condition. Here at East Vic Park Physiotherapy, our physiotherapists are very experienced in assessing and treating lateral elbow pain. Click the link at the top of the webpage to book an appointment or call us on 9361 3777.
1. Physiotherapy management of lateral epicondylalgia. Bisset, L & Vicenzino, B. 2015. Journal of physiotherapy (61), 174-181.