What is Tennis Elbow?

Lateral Epicondylalgia, also known as tennis elbow, is the most common condition that affects the elbow. It is categorised as a tendinopathy, which refers to where over time the cartilage of our muscles as they attach to the bone starts to break down and cause pain. It is typified by pain over the outer point on the elbow, which sometimes refers down the forearm. Often we have pain gripping and lifting objects. When it gets really bad, even holding a coffee cup can be a challenge.

How do we develop Tennis Elbow?

Usually it has a gradual onset where it gets worse and worse over time, usually on the background of us increasing our activity. For example, increasing our hours at work in a manual job, or increasing our training volume of tennis. Think of it as our load on the muscles outpacing our capacity to recover. Occasionally we can get more of a sudden presentation, such as if there are small tears in the tendon.

How do we fix it?

Step one is we need to eliminate the cause, which usually means balancing out our activity levels. Sometimes it can be a technique issue – are we overloading our wrist/elbow?

Next, we need to reverse the tendon disease through strengthening the area. This is primarily achieved through specific exercise. A good exercise to try initially is with your wrist palm down, trying to lift a weight up by bending at the wrist. Exercise needs to be pain free.

Finally we need to look broader. Research has revealed, particularly if the problem has been around for a while, that often our nerves can be involved. It can be helpful to assess whether our flexibility and posture through the upper body is having an impact on our symptoms.

How long before I get better?

Tennis elbow is typically a challenging condition to fix. It is about balancing our load on the area and our strategies to repair it (specific exercise and rest). Exercise needs to be mostly pain free but remain challenging. Once the condition is controlled the condition can take anywhere from weeks to months to recover depending on the severity.

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