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Tennis Elbow: Not Just for Tennis Players

Jul 01, 2023

By Heather McLaughlin, OTR/L, William Newton Occupational Therapy

Tennis elbow, or lateral epicondylitis, is an inflammatory condition of the muscles and tendons located in the forearm that are responsible for extending the wrist and hand. Pain is typically located on the outer (lateral) elbow near the epicondyle, or the bump on the outside of the elbow. The forearm muscles become damaged and inflamed initially, usually due to repetitive or awkward movements of the wrist and hand. In most cases, microtrauma may also occur with small microtears in the muscle attachments. This can create a muscle imbalance and other issues including nerve impingement, decreased grip strength, and forearm/wrist muscle weakness. This area houses many muscles that attach in a common area — because of this, it has decreased blood supply, without which healing will not occur quickly. As this condition worsens, flexibility and strength of the wrist extensors are a main concern alongside the pain.

Tennis players are susceptible to this condition because the muscles of the forearm are overused. However, they aren’t the only ones who develop this condition. Only 5% of people with this condition are tennis players! Painters, carpenters, factory workers, mechanics, plumbers, butchers, office workers, and cooks are among those who also have problems with this condition.

Treatment varies based on the severity of the condition. The first step is to contact your physician. They may take X-Rays or prescribe anti-inflammatory medication. In severe cases, a steroid injection may be necessary. If therapy is indicated, the therapist will first evaluate your condition and set up a treatment plan. Every patient is unique, but typically a treatment session is comprised of a modality for reducing pain. Then, providers generally perform some manual treatments aimed at increasing blood flow and increasing collagen proliferation, which aids in the healing properties. A thorough stretching regimen is initiated; when pain decreases, providers start with specific graded exercises to build up strength with grip and wrist/forearm strength without pain. Sometimes a wrist splint or an elbow counterforce brace is needed to reduce the forceful contraction of the painful muscle groups, thus relieving pain at the lateral elbow. In rare cases, surgery is needed.

William Newton Hospital is home to the only clinic in Cowley County that provides outpatient occupational therapy services. OT can treat patients with upper extremity conditions. Speak with your physician to ensure OT is appropriate. A physician’s order is needed prior to scheduling an appointment at 620-221-2300 ext. 1194.

Posted in Head-to-Toe Health , Rehabilitation Services , Weekend Check-Up Column on Jul 01, 2023