Tennis Tip: Tackling Tennis Elbow
So often we entertain questions and concerns about the dreaded “Tennis Elbow.” While this condition is common (over 50% of racquet sports players will suffer), it often goes untreated. We wanted to share as much info as possible and some insights into your or your friend’s condition that might be new and helpful knowledge. Let’s dig in.
Tennis elbow, or lateral epicondylitis, is a painful condition of the elbow caused by overuse-repeating the same motions again and again. It is an inflammation of the tendons that join the forearm muscles on the outside of the elbow causing pain and tenderness. Not surprisingly, playing tennis or other racquet sports can cause this condition. But several other sports and activities can also put you at risk.
The symptoms of tennis elbow develop gradually. In most cases, the pain begins as mild and slowly worsens over weeks and months. There is usually no specific injury associated with the start of symptoms.
Common signs and symptoms of tennis elbow include:
The symptoms are often worsened with forearm activity, such as holding a racquet, turning a wrench, or shaking hands. Your dominant arm is most often affected; however both arms can be affected.Let's Get Anatomical!
Lateral Epicondylitis, or tennis elbow, involves the muscles and tendons of your forearm. Your forearm muscles extend your wrist and fingers. Your forearm tendons -- often called extensors -- attach the muscles to bone. They attach on the lateral epicondyle. The tendon usually involved in tennis elbow is called the Extensor Carpi Radialis Brevis (ECRB).
The ECRB muscle helps stabilize the wrist when the elbow is straight. This occurs during a tennis groundstroke, for example. When the ECRB is weakened from overuse or hitting incorrectly, microscopic tears form in the tendon where it attaches to the lateral epicondyle. This leads to inflammation and pain.
Rest, icing and giving time for your tendon tears to repair is highly suggested. We must give our body the chance to heal. Inflammation must go down to repair the muscles and tendons and they must able to lengthen, not stay contracted and tight, prolonging the inflammation. Read on to further understand the condition. Waiting too long to work the muscles though will cause atrophy and listening to your body’s signals is important.
Take a look at the inner-workings of your forearm and elbow below. This diagram may be helpful to visualize your pain and how you can identify when you might need to take a break.
Once it hits, tried treatments range from acupuncture to corticosteroids to surgery, usually with limited — if any — long-term success. As a preliminary step in listening to your body, we’d like to offer an alternative exercise to strengthen the forearm and treat your body correctly.
Preventative Care - What you can do at home!
A program that involves eccentric exercises, which aren’t oddball (eccentric) moves but those in which the muscle lengthens as it tenses, can help you! Think of a biceps curl. When you raise the dumbbell, your bicep shortens and tightens. That’s a concentric contraction. When you lower the weight, the muscle lengthens, straining against the force of the weight. That’s eccentric. This kind of exercise is often skipped and overlooked as an important piece of keeping the balance in muscle health. Just as stretching can help “loosen you up,” this type of exercise “loosens” by lengthening the muscle-keeping it contracted will cause tension and too much work over time resulting in inflammation, weakness and pain. Here’s a video to demonstrate how we can strengthen the elbow so you can keep playing!
Check this out for preventative exercises: http://youtu.be/yRkDTTn1FvA or http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yRkDTTn1FvA&feature=youtu.be
Most people who get tennis elbow are between the ages of 30 and 50, although anyone can get tennis elbow if they have the risk factors. In racquet sports like tennis, improper stroke technique and improper equipment may be risk factors. Your next move is to stop in to Game Set Match to get a checkup for your gear.
Equipment Check- What we can do at Game Set Match!
We recommend a couple precautions/tips to taking GREAT CARE of your elbow and therefore the life of your game. Stiffer racquets and looser-strung racquets often can reduce the stress on the forearm, which means that the forearm muscles do not have to work as hard. The frame taking more of the impact rather than your forearm will help exponentially.
Replacing your strings every 10 matches will also significantly diminish the impact on your forearm as well. More elastic strings means less vibration traveling up your arm. Let the strings do the work!
Choosing a new and tackier grip will allow you to take the death hold off your handle and this will prove a relief to your elbow! This is a really inexpensive step in the right direction. A slippery hold is going to cause you to pick up slack in other areas (namely the forearm muscles)-too tight a grip means unnecessary energy spent on squeezing the grip-this is misdirected effort.
- Vibration Dampener
Don’t underestimate the power of these little absorbers. Let them take the hit. These tools will absorb the vibration from the ball hitting your strings and help alleviate the work your forearm is doing. We have MANY choices for you—another inexpensive fixer-upper!
- Game Set Match Staff is highly educated on different racquet types, string selection, and grips. We are ready to discuss anything racquet sports to get you on the court in comfort. Getting fitted in the right racquet and respectful accompaniments is key.
Finally, we recommend a forearm brace to ease up on that elbow during play! These little guys can provide some relief by placing pressure on that ECRB muscle by dampening the vibration from the ball when it connects with your racquet. Physics will tell you that the energy displaced from the ball’s impact has to go somewhere-either your elbow takes it, the racquet, the strings, or another source; the arm brace. This aid is for on the court only and by no means a healing solution but this will let you play through your match in less pain!
Game Set Match Recommended Relief Aids
preventing Repetitive Stress Injuries (RSIs). The magnetic version is said to increase blood flow and oxygen to the area of concern. We highly recommend this product. The band should be placed 2 fingers below the crease of the elbow so as not to rub. In addition, the product should fit snug while avoiding cutting off circulation during play. Try it!
The Nitro Armband by GAMMA provides forearm support with a padded hook and loop closure for tight but comfortable compression against the forearm muscle to lessen the impact. The unique Nitrogen filled pouch focuses pressure on a specific area to provide you ultimate pain relief. The Nitro Armband is comfortable, durable and washable.
Eccentric Exercise Video, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yRkDTTn1FvA
As always, Game Set Match has your best interest at heart. The goal is to get you on the court loving the game. We hope you gained some new insight into the elbow and forearm and what might be ailing you. We hope the best practices outlined in this tip are for both combating and preventing the pain you feel from “tennis elbow.” Come in and we’ll get you fitted in the right racquet and give you the royal tune-up! Thanks for reading and stay healthy!
Get on the Court!
The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, www.orthoinfo.aaos.orgtopic.cfm?topic=a00068
The NY Times, Phys Ed: An Easy Fix for Tennis Elbow? GRETCHEN REYNOLDS AUGUST 25, 2009