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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In some cases, corticosteroid injections may be administered to reduce inflammation and alleviate pain. These injections are typically performed by a healthcare professional.
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.
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.
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, such as soft tissue mobilisation, myofascial release, and joint mobilizations, can help reduce pain, improve tissue quality, and restore normal joint function.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.