Tennis elbow can be quite the pain in the, well, elbow. It can make everyday tasks more difficult as well as limit your ability to exercise. Here's what you need to know about tennis elbow and the exercises to avoid if you have it.
Read more: Treatments for Elbow Pain From Weightlifting
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Understanding Tennis Elbow
The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) explains that tennis elbow, or lateral epicondylitis, is a painful elbow condition that is often caused by overuse. Activities like tennis that involve repetitive, vigorous use of the forearm can cause this injury, which is why it is referred to as tennis elbow. The U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM) notes that backhand strokes in particular place a lot of strain on your forearm.
In fact, the NLM says that other repetitive motions, like using a screwdriver, typing on a keyboard or using a mouse, can also result in tennis elbow. Apart from tennis and squash players, carpenters, painters, plumbers, cooks, butchers, auto workers and computer users are some of the groups of people who are at a higher risk of tennis elbow. However, you can also develop tennis elbow for no apparent reason.
The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) explains that tennis elbow occurs when the tendons that attach your arm muscles to your bones start to swell and tear. This puts stress on your elbow joint and weakens it. Tennis elbow usually starts as an ache on the outer side of your elbow. It worsens over time and becomes a severe, burning pain.
Activities to Avoid With Tennis Elbow
If you suspect that you may have tennis elbow, you should visit your doctor to get the appropriate diagnosis and treatment. According to a March 2013 study published in the journal Sports Health, most cases of tennis elbow don't require surgery.
You should also check with your doctor about which activities to avoid with tennis elbow. Exercises to avoid usually include tennis, squash or the activity that caused the injury, per the AAFP. A November 2015 article published in the British Journal of General Practice also recommends avoiding any activities that aggravate your elbow.
The AAFP says gripping, twisting or lifting objects can cause pain to shoot from your elbow to your forearm and hand, so try to avoid any workout activities or gym exercises that involve these motions. Certain tasks in your daily routine may also cause you pain, like turning doorknobs, for example. While you may not be able to avoid these tasks altogether, try to limit doing them as much as possible.
The NLM says if your injury is as a result of playing tennis, you should consult an expert to check whether you need to modify your technique or your equipment. According to the AAOS, loosely strung rackets and stiff rackets can reduce the stress on your forearm. Switching from an oversized racket to a smaller head can also help prevent reinjury.
Your doctor may also suggest that you do certain tennis elbow exercises and stretches to help your injury heal. A small study published in the April 2018 issue of the Journal of Physical Therapy Science notes that certain wrist and shoulder exercises can help reduce the pain and improve your grip.
Read more: How to Strengthen Tendons and Ligaments
- American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: “Tennis Elbow (Lateral Epicondylitis)”
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: “Tennis Elbow”
- American Academy of Family Physicians: “Tennis Elbow”
- Sports Health: “Current Concepts in Examination and Treatment of Elbow Tendon Injury”
- British Journal of General Practice: “Elbow Pain: A Guide to Assessment and Management in Primary Care”
- Journal of Physical Therapy Science: “Effects of Eccentric Control Exercise for Wrist Extensor and Shoulder Stabilization Exercise on the Pain and Functions of Tennis Elbow”
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Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.