Lateral epicondylitis, more commonly known as tennis elbow, is characterized by pain on the outside of the elbow with lifting, gripping, and repetitive finger and wrist movements. Despite the name, tennis elbow is not found exclusively amongst tennis players. In fact, the most common cause of tennis elbow is extended periods of time spent using a computer keyboard or mouse, especially if ones biomechanics are less than ideal. Pain is normally only present when performing aggravating activities, but can present as a constant dull ache in some cases.
What is Tennis Elbow?
Tennis elbow is most commonly a repetitive strain injury – a condition caused by overuse of the muscles which extend the wrist and straighten the fingers; however, acute onset of tennis elbow has been noted in some circumstances. Chronic irritation of the common tendon insertion at the elbow leads to pain with many commonplace daily activities, especially those involving gripping as well as twisting of the forearm. Mechanical and muscle imbalances often contribute to the irritation associated with tennis elbow, but are not necessarily present in all cases.
Traditional treatment for tennis elbow involves manual therapy and muscle release to correct any mechanical issues, as well as various techniques to reduce muscular tension and promote healing of the chronically irritated tissue. Massage, stretching, and Graston techniques are commonly used to alleviate tension in the muscle, while oral anti-inflammatories and, in extreme cases, cortisone injections are used to reduce local inflammation. Tennis elbow straps are commonly used to reduce irritation on the extensor group during daily tasks and recreational activities. As irritation reduces, a specific strengthening program is essential to prevent symptoms from returning.
Treating tennis elbow by way of radial shockwave therapy is becoming more prevalent. According to one recent study, 90-97.7% of tennis elbow patients, showed either “complete recovery” or “good improvement” after one to three sessions of shockwave therapy. Shockwave therapy breaks scar tissue and adhesions that have formed in the muscle, as well as stimulating new blood vessel growth, accelerating healing of the target tissue. This improvement was shown in patients who had already undergone traditional physical therapy, including manual therapy to correct mechanical issues. A multimodal approach is key to effectively treating tennis elbow.
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