Elbow Tendonitis: Causes, Symptoms, and Physiotherapy Management

Elbow tendonitis, also known as lateral epicondylitis or tennis elbow, is a common overuse syndrome that affects the tendons in the elbow. It is characterised by pain and inflammation in the outer part of the elbow. Similarly, golfer’s elbow, or medial epicondylitis, affects the tendons on the inner part of the elbow.

In this blog article, we will explore the causes, symptoms, and physiotherapy management of elbow tendonitis.

Understanding Elbow Tendonitis

The elbow joint is composed of three bones: the humerus, radius, and ulna. It is surrounded by various tendons that connect the muscles to the bones. The extensor tendons on the outer side of the elbow and the flexor tendons on the inner side are particularly prone to tendonitis.

Following are some of the causes of elbow tendonitis:

1. Repetitive motions and overuse

Frequent and repetitive movements of the forearm, such as those involved in certain sports (e.g., tennis, golf) or occupations (e.g., painting, plumbing), can strain the tendons and lead to tendonitis.

2. Poor technique and form

Using incorrect technique or form during activities that involve the elbow, such as improper swing mechanics in tennis or golf, can place excessive stress on the tendons and contribute to the development of tendonitis.

3. Pre-existing elbow injuries or conditions

Individuals with pre-existing elbow injuries, such as fractures or dislocations, or those with conditions like arthritis, are more susceptible to developing elbow tendonitis.

Symptoms of Elbow Tendonitis

  • Pain and tenderness in the elbow

One of the primary symptoms of elbow tendonitis is pain and tenderness on the outer or inner side of the elbow, depending on the specific type of tendonitis.

  • Burning sensation and stiffness

Individuals with elbow tendonitis may experience a burning sensation around the affected area, as well as stiffness, particularly in the morning or after periods of rest.

  • Impaired grip strength and reduced range of motion

Elbow tendonitis can cause a decrease in grip strength, making it challenging to grasp objects firmly. It may also limit the range of motion of the elbow joint.

  • Radiating pain to the forearm, wrist, and hand

In some cases, the pain associated with elbow tendonitis may radiate from the elbow down to the forearm, wrist, and hand, causing discomfort and limitations in daily activities.

Diagnosis and Medical Evaluation

A thorough physical examination by an orthopaedic specialist or a physiotherapist is essential for diagnosing elbow tendonitis. The healthcare professional will assess the range of motion, strength, and tenderness of the elbow and surrounding areas.

In some cases, diagnostic imaging tests such as X-rays, CT scans, or MRI scans may be ordered to rule out other possible injuries or conditions and to evaluate the extent of the tendon damage.

It is important to differentiate elbow tendonitis from other conditions that may cause similar symptoms, such as nerve entrapment, ligament sprains, or arthritis. A comprehensive evaluation helps in accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment planning.

Home Treatment and Self-Care

  • Rest and avoiding activities that aggravate the condition

Rest is crucial in the initial stages of elbow tendonitis to allow the tendons to heal. Avoiding activities that worsen the symptoms is recommended to prevent further irritation and promote recovery.

  • Ice therapy and over-the-counter pain relief

Applying ice packs to the affected area can help reduce pain and inflammation. Over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may also be used to alleviate pain and swelling.

  • Compression techniques and elbow braces

Wearing compression sleeves or elbow braces can provide support and help reduce strain on the tendons. These aids can be beneficial during physical activities or while performing repetitive tasks.

  • Importance of proper ergonomics and posture

Maintaining proper ergonomics and posture while engaging in activities involving the elbow can minimise strain on the tendons. Adjusting workstations, using ergonomic tools, and maintaining correct posture can help prevent tendonitis or its recurrence.

Medical Interventions and Professional Care

  • Corticosteroid injections to reduce inflammation

In some cases, corticosteroid injections may be administered to reduce inflammation and alleviate pain. These injections are typically performed by a healthcare professional.

  • Physiotherapy for elbow tendonitis

Physiotherapy plays a crucial role in the management of elbow tendonitis, focusing on pain relief, promoting healing, and restoring function. It involves a combination of techniques and exercises tailored to the individual’s specific condition.

  • Role of physiotherapy in pain management and recovery

Physiotherapy aims to relieve pain through modalities such as ice or heat therapy, ultrasound, and electrical stimulation. Additionally, it focuses on promoting healing and tissue repair through targeted exercises and manual therapy techniques.

  • Therapeutic exercises to improve strength and mobility

Physiotherapists prescribe specific exercises to strengthen the muscles around the elbow, improve flexibility, and restore range of motion. These exercises may include wrist curls, forearm pronation and supination, and eccentric exercises.

  • Manual therapy techniques and modalities

Manual therapy techniques, such as soft tissue mobilisation, myofascial release, and joint mobilizations, can help reduce pain, improve tissue quality, and restore normal joint function.

  • Ergonomic assessments and modifications

Physiotherapists can evaluate the individual’s work and sports-related activities and provide recommendations for ergonomic modifications. This may include adjustments to technique, equipment, or workstations to prevent re-injury.

  • Correcting form and technique to prevent reinjury

Physiotherapists can work with individuals to correct their form, technique, and movement patterns to reduce strain on the tendons and prevent future episodes of tendonitis.

  • Surgical options for severe and persistent cases

In rare cases when conservative treatments do not provide sufficient relief, surgical intervention may be considered. This typically involves removing damaged tendon tissue or repairing the tendon.

Prevention and Lifestyle Adjustments

  • Tips for preventing elbow tendonitis

Practising proper technique and form during activities involving the elbow, taking regular breaks during repetitive tasks, and gradually increasing activity levels can help prevent the onset of elbow tendonitis.

  • Proper warm-up and stretching techniques

Engaging in a thorough warm-up routine before physical activities involving the elbow can prepare the muscles and tendons for increased stress. Stretching exercises should focus on the muscles of the forearm, wrist, and hand.

  • Gradual progression in physical activities

Avoiding sudden increases in the intensity, duration, or frequency of physical activities can reduce the risk of overuse injuries, including elbow tendonitis. Gradually increasing the demands on the tendons allows them to adapt and become stronger.

  • Maintaining overall fitness and muscle balance

Regular exercise and strength training that target the muscles of the entire body, including the forearm and upper arm, can help maintain overall fitness and muscle balance. Strong muscles provide better support for the tendons and reduce the risk of injury.

Final Thoughts

Elbow tendonitis, commonly known as tennis elbow or golfer’s elbow, is a prevalent condition characterised by pain and inflammation in the tendons around the elbow joint. Understanding the causes, recognising the symptoms, and seeking appropriate management is essential for recovery and prevention. 

Physiotherapy plays a crucial role in the comprehensive management of elbow tendonitis, focusing on pain relief, rehabilitation, and prevention of future episodes. Early intervention, adherence to self-care measures, and professional guidance are key to successful treatment outcomes. If you are experiencing symptoms of elbow tendonitis, contact Melbourne Hand Therapy for personalised advice and treatment options.

Please call us today (03) 9899 8490 or leave an enquiry, and we will get back to you as soon as possible.

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