With tennis season in full swing, spare a thought for the aches and pains of the hard working tennis players.
Up to 40% of tennis players suffer ‘tennis elbow’, a painful condition near the bony bump on the outside of the elbow (Gruchow, 1979). The true name for the condition is lateral epicondylalgia but it’s frequency among tennis players has lead to the term ‘tennis elbow’.
‘Tennis elbow’ is a degenerative condition in the tendons of the forearm and is caused by repetitive hand and wrist activities (Bisset, 2006). Musicians, trades people and factory workers are also at increased risk of having the problem.
The back-hand stroke in tennis tends to bring about ‘Tennis elbow’ in tennis players. The wrist ‘snap’ of an overhead stroke or tennis serve can also bring on the problem.
To help ease or prevent ‘tennis elbow’ during tennis:
- Make sure that your racquet’s grip is the correct size for your hand.
- Try gripping your racquet less tightly between tennis strokes to reduce strain on the tendons at the elbow.
- Try a two handed back-hand technique as it loads your elbow less than a single handed stroke.
- Consider some lessons with a professional tennis coach to ensure that your technique is ideal.
If your ‘tennis elbow’ is not brought on by tennis try:
- Resting the area for a few weeks by trying to avoid picking things up with the elbow out straight and the palm down. Either carry things with the hand facing up or use the other hand.
- Using your computer mouse in the other hand for a few weeks.
- When using tools or utensils with a handle, make sure that your wrist is held in a strong position. If the load is so heavy that your wrist ‘drops’ you may need to use both hands or get some help.
- Tennis elbow straps which wrap around the forearm, and are secured by velcro can relieve discomfort. These straps can be good for strenuous tasks but tend to be uncomfortable if worn all the time. Sports tape applied by a physiotherapist is usually more effective than a velcro strap.
Physiotherapy has been clinically proven to be very effective for ‘tennis elbow’. Physiotherapy both reduces the pain of the problem and prevents it from returning. In the short term a steroid injection can reduce pain but the problem tends to return.
Chronic ‘tennis elbow’ is usually associated with reduced forearm muscle strength (Coombes, 2011). Your physio can measure your grip strength and give specialised exercises to help you fix painful ‘tennis elbow’. Physiotherapy usually involves ’mobilisation’ of the elbow and advice on altering activities which cause the problem (Vicenzino, 2007). Sometimes neck treatment, sports tape and acupuncture can also help.
APMA would like to thank the Fortus Health for permission to reprint this information.
Coombes BK, Bisset L, Vicenzino B. Elbow flexor and extensor muscle weakness in lateral epicondylalgia. Br J Sports Med. 2011 Jun 27.
Vicenzino B, Cleland JA, Bisset L. Joint manipulation in the management of lateral epicondylalgia: a clinical commentary. J Man Manip Ther. 2007;15(1):50-6.
Gruchow HW and Pelletier DW: An epidemiologic study of tennis elbow: Incidence, recurrence, and effectiveness of prevention strategies. American Journal of Sports Medicine, 1979; 7(4):234-238.
Bisset L, Beller E, Jull G, Brooks P, Darnell R, Vicenzino B. Mobilisation with movement and exercise, corticosteroid injection, or wait and see for tennis elbow: randomised trial. BMJ. 2006 Nov 4;333(7575):939.