All about tennis elbow, a frustrating ailment

Clinical examination is usually sufficient to diagnose tennis elbow, and X-rays are employed to ensure there are no abnormalities in the bones.
All about tennis elbow, a frustrating ailment

CHENNAI : Tennis elbow is a common term that many of us are familiar with, to the point where patients often self-diagnose before seeking medical advice. As someone who has personally suffered from this condition, I can attest that it is a frustrating ailment to have, and as a doctor, it can be challenging to treat due to the lack of quick-fix remedies.

This condition arises from overuse, resulting in the tearing of a tendon that moves the wrist near the outer aspect of the elbow. The symptoms typically include aching pain around the elbow, a weakened grip, and sometimes nighttime discomfort.

Clinical examination is usually sufficient to diagnose tennis elbow, and X-rays are employed to ensure there are no abnormalities in the bones. In rare cases where uncertainty remains, an MRI scan may be necessary to confirm tendon involvement.

The initial treatment approach involves physiotherapy and pain medications. Stretching exercises targeting the affected tendons are often helpful. 

Individuals who engage in racquet sports may need to have their racquet assessed by a sports physiotherapist, as even slight design changes have been reported to trigger this condition. The use of a small brace can also be beneficial in reducing pain.  Since tennis elbow is an overuse injury, adequate rest is crucial for the healing of the torn tendon, making it important to avoid lifting heavy weights.

Injections such as steroids or platelet-rich plasma are commonly used to alleviate pain. Both options have demonstrated efficacy, and the debate regarding their comparative effectiveness continues without a definitive answer. 

If the pain is severe and nonsurgical interventions have been unsuccessful, surgery may be considered. Surgical procedures can be performed either arthroscopically or through a one-inch incision on the side of the elbow, with similar success rates for both approaches.

Tennis elbow generally follows a self-resolving course, with the condition typically resolving within one to two years.

BEWARE OF ‘MOUSE ELBOW’

1. Tennis elbow is a condition characterised by pain and inflammation in the outer part of the elbow. The name “tennis elbow” originated because it was commonly observed in tennis players, particularly those who frequently used a backhand stroke with poor technique or excessive force. 
2. While tennis players are at a higher risk, tennis elbow can affect individuals engaged in various activities that involve repetitive motions of the wrist and forearm, such as painting, plumbing, carpentry, cooking, and playing musical instruments. 
3. People in occupations that require repetitive arm movements, such as mechanics or assembly line workers, can also be prone to developing tennis elbow. 
4. Yes, tennis elbow can indeed be associated with computer use, particularly if the individual engages in prolonged and repetitive motions that strain the forearm tendons. This condition is often referred to as “computer elbow” or “mouse elbow”. 
5. Another possible trigger is excessive and repetitive use of mobile phones, particularly when engaging in activities that require a tight grip, such as typing or texting. It can put strain on the tendons and muscles in the forearm. 

The author is consultant orthopaedic surgeon, head of arthroplasty & sports medicine, Medical Trust Hospital, Kochi  

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