Did you know that, despite its name, less than 5% of tennis elbow cases are actually related to tennis? Tennis elbow, also known as epicondylitis, is inflammation or injury to the tendons in the elbow area. It’s caused by repetitive motions, which is why it’s associated with the repeated swinging of a tennis racket!
Epicondylitis can cause significant pain and discomfort and can impact your daily life in addition to your athletic life. It can be treated and managed pretty easily, but it does take time for any injury to heal.
If you’ve been diagnosed with epicondylitis and are looking for relief, read on to learn more about this condition.
What Is Epicondylitis?
Your tendons attach your muscles to your bones. While your muscles adapt to exercise and strengthen relatively quickly, your tendons are slow to strengthen due to less blood flow.
This means that working them too much too quickly can lead to injury. In addition, your tendons also have a longer healing time.
The tendons affected by epicondylitis are the ones that attach your forearm muscles to your upper arm bone. The most common type is lateral epicondylitis, which is on the side of your elbow with the thumb. Medial epicondylitis, on your pinky side, is far less common.
These tendons can be injured either by a sudden impact or repeated stress. Repeatedly moving your arms will cause small tears to your tendons leading to pain and inflammation. You likely won’t get epicondylitis in one session, but overuse causes your tendons to soften, weaken, and then tear.
Symptoms of Epicondylitis
Epicondylitis can be identified by pain that appears on the outside of the elbow. In some cases, the pain will emerge suddenly, but it’s more common that it emerges over time.
The pain will get worse when squeezing objects or moving the wrist. For example, you might notice increased pain while using tools or holding your fork.
Because it affects the soft tissue, epicondylitis can’t be seen on X-rays. Usually, your doctor will be able to diagnose it just by hearing your symptoms and assessing your risk factors. They’ll also conduct a physical exam, palpating the area and checking the tendon integrity.
There are other conditions that can cause similar symptoms so sometimes your doctor will want to double-check. They can confirm the diagnosis with an ultrasound or MRI, which can visualize the structure of soft tissue. Usually, the symptoms are very clear and this step is not necessary.
Because there are several conditions that can mimic the symptoms of epicondylitis, it’s important to see your doctor if you suspect you’re affected. They can confirm the condition and help form a treatment plan.
Who Is at Risk of Epicondylitis?
Epicondylitis is the medical term for what is colloquially referred to as “tennis elbow” or even “golfer’s elbow.” These two sports involve similar mechanics: repeated swinging and impact that can stress the tendons and cause bone inflammation in the arm. For that reason, both golfers and tennis players can experience this painful injury!
It can also affect workers and athletes who need to perform repetitive movements with their arms and wrists. These professions can include:
- Baseball players
- Factory line workers
A few risk factors have been identified that can indicate the likelihood of epicondylitis. These risk factors are repetitive movements for more than 2 hours per day, carrying loads over 45 pounds 10 times a day, and using tools that are more than 2 pounds.
Luckily, epicondylitis is straightforward to treat. The standard treatment protocol includes physical therapy and the RICE protocol. RICE stands for rest, ice, compression, and elevation.
RICE is used to control pain, inflammation, and promote blood flow. In addition, it’s recommended to prevent the movements that caused the condition. Generally, surgery is not necessary.
Because the condition can cause significant pain that impacts your daily life, you might also use over-the-counter pain medication such as ibuprofen, anti-inflammatory gels, and pain relief lotions. On occasion, cortisone injections can help.
In addition, shockwave therapy has been proven to significantly improve epicondylitis pain and inflammation, and speed up the healing process. Shockwave therapy is a painless treatment, similar to getting an ultrasound.
This treatment is often performed by a physical therapist in the clinic. You can also get a shockwave therapy device that you can use at home.
Because your tendons take a long time to heal, the injury can take up to 6 months to a year to heal! Taking care of the injury and using shockwave therapy can speed that timeline up, but it is important to take time off of sport to avoid re-injuring the area.
Although healing is slow and treatment can take some time, the outlook for patients with tennis elbow is very good.
More than 90-95% of patients with tennis elbow experience a full recovery. These patients will be able to fully return to their activities without issue.
The last 5% of epicondylitis patients won’t improve with this treatment protocol and will require surgery to fix the tendons. From this 5%, 90% will return to unlimited activities.
Experience Relief From Epicondylitis Today
If you play a lot of sports or perform a lot of repetitive motions, you could be at risk for epicondylitis. While this injury can cause a lot of pain that impacts your daily life and limits your training, a full recovery is possible. With a bit of care and treatment, you can experience pain-free living again!
Oceanus shockwave therapy devices are designed for the cost-effective treatment of epicondylitis and other similar conditions. You can experience pain relief almost immediately. Contact us with any questions and to learn more about our products!