By Dr Tony Setiobudi BMedSci, MBBS, MRCS, MMed (Ortho), FRCS (Ortho)
What is tennis elbow?
A tennis elbow is a condition in which the swelling of the tendon causes pain in the outer part of the elbow or arm. It happens when you damage the tendons that connect the muscles of your forearm to your elbow. The pain may spread down your arm to your wrist. It is also known as lateral epicondylitis. Tennis elbow is most common in patients between the ages of 30 and 50.
The symptoms of a tennis elbow develop over time. In the early stages, pain may be present with activity and quickly go away with rest, however, as it progresses the pain may be more constant, lasting for longer and occurring with smaller movements. Common signs and symptoms of a tennis elbow include:
- Pain or burning in the outer part of the elbow
- Pain, numbness, tingling sensation often radiates into the back of the forearm
- Weakness in your hands and wrists
The pain usually gets worse when you bend your wrist backward, turn your palm upward, or hold something with a stiff wrist or straightened elbow.
Repetitive use and overuse of the muscles around the elbows is the main cause of developing a tennis elbow. Where you twist or stretch your wrist and hands over and over will stress the tendon, causing tiny tears that in time lead to pain. Tennis elbow is common in tennis players, but is not limited to tennis players, most people get it from other activities that work the same muscles, such as gardening, painting, plumbing, and typing.
Tennis elbow management involves both nonsurgical and surgical methods. Approximately, 80-95% of patients have success with nonsurgical treatment.
- Resting the hands, modify the activities and refrain from over-exerting the affected arm.
- If the problem is caused by acute inflammation, anti-inflammatory medications may give you some relief.
- Physical therapy and perform home exercises to stretch and strengthen the elbows.
- Steroid injection. It can decrease swelling and alleviate pain.
Doctors may recommend surgery if the symptoms do not respond to nonsurgical treatment.
- Open surgery. The surgeon makes a small cut over the outside of your elbow. The surgeon cuts out the damaged part of the tissue and sews the normal parts of the tendon back together.
- Arthroscopic surgery. The surgeon makes a few tiny cuts in the skin over your elbow. Very small instruments and a camera go into the holes and remove the damaged parts of your tendon.
It is a same-day surgery, so you can go home after a few hours in the recovery room.
As tennis elbow is a progressive condition that generally does not resolve on its own. Because of this, it is recommended to seek treatment sooner rather than later, as recovery is much faster when started early.
Dr Tony Setiobudi – Orthopaedic & Spine Surgeon at Mount Elizabeth Hospital (Orchard), Singapore.