Elbow pain is often associated with tennis players – hence the name “tennis elbow” – but this condition can affect anyone. In fact, less than 5% of people diagnosed with tennis elbow actually play tennis. If you’re dealing with serious elbow pain, tennis elbow may to blame. So what is tennis elbow? What are the cause and symptoms of tennis elbow? Are there any tennis elbow natural treatments available that may help reduce pain? We will discover all of this in this blog!
What is Tennis Elbow?
Tennis elbow is also called lateral epicondylitis, and it’s an overuse injury that affects the outside of the elbow area. It’s caused by inflammation or micro-tearing of the forearm muscles.
Repeating the same movements over and over again can lead to pain, tenderness and swelling along the outside of the elbow.
Symptoms of Tennis Elbow
The most common symptoms of tennis elbow are pain and tenderness along that bony knob on the exterior of your elbow. This knob is where your tendons and ligaments connect to your elbow joint, and this is generally the site of the damage that causes tennis elbow. People who develop tennis elbow typically experience:
- Pain or burning along the outer elbow
- Pain may be worse at night
- Weak grip strength
These symptoms usually get worse when you use your forearm. For example, the pain may get worse when turning a wrench or using a racquets. For most people, tennis elbow affects their dominant arm, but in rare cases, both arms can be affected.
Tennis elbow may start as just an ache in the elbow, but over time (anywhere from a few weeks to a few months), the ache becomes progressively worse and turns into pain. Some people experience constant pain in the outer elbow, even when they’re not performing any activities. In some cases, the elbow may be painful to the touch.
Risk Factors And The Cause Of Tennis Elbow
There are a few different tennis elbow causes, but overuse is the primary underlying reason. The condition most commonly affects people between the ages of 30 and 50. Common causes and risk factors include:
Research shows that tennis elbow is usually caused by damage to a certain forearm muscle, called the extensor carpi radialis brevis, or ECRB. The ECRB is responsible for stabilizing your wrist when your elbow is straight.
Overuse, or repetitive movements, can weaken the ECRB and lead to micro-tears that cause pain and inflammation.
Doctors believe that the ECRB may be at a higher risk of damage because of its location. Every time you bend and straighten your elbow, your muscle rubs against the bony bumps in your elbow joint. Over time and with consistent movement, those bony bumps can cause wear and tear.
Certain sports can put you at a greater risk of developing tennis elbow. Tennis is the most obvious and well-known sport to cause this condition, but other sports can also cause this type of overuse injury.
When tennis players hit a backhand, it puts quite a bit of strain on the forearm muscles. When you hit the ball in this position, your forearm muscles clench. The stress is even greater if your form is off or your grip is too tight. Eventually, those micro-tears from those hits can lead to damage that causes tennis elbow.
You can also develop tennis elbow from playing other racquet sports and physical activities, such as:
- Lifting weights
Any sport or physical activity that involves the use of forearm muscles can cause tennis elbow.
Just as certain physical activities can cause tennis elbow, so can certain occupations. Jobs that involve repetitive motions and the use of your forearms can eventually damage your elbow muscles and tendons. Some of the most common occupational activities that can cause tennis elbow include:
- Food preparation
- Computer mouse use
- Driving nails and screws
- The use of plumbing tools
- Car mechanical work
- Assembly line work
- Playing certain musical instruments
- Using a chainsaw for tree removal
A direct injury to your elbow can also cause your tendons to swell and lead to tennis elbow.
Diagnosing Tennis Elbow
If you think you may have tennis elbow, the first thing your doctor will do is take a look at your medical history and discuss your symptoms. Your doctor will check for pain in your arm and may ask you to perform a few simple motions to see if there is tenderness or discomfort.
In some cases, doctors order imaging tests, like an MRI or an X-ray. Another way to test for this condition is an electromyography, or EMG, which uses electrical currents to look for nerve problems.
Treatments For Tennis Elbow
When treating this condition, doctors will start with non-surgical options. The majority of people will find relief with these conservative options. Conventional treatment protocols include:
One of the most important steps in the recovery process is rest. It’s also one of the hardest things for most people to do because we all lead such busy lives.
Rest may mean that, for a few weeks, you will have to stop playing sports or engaging in the work activities that led to your tennis elbow in the first place.
Your doctor may recommend physical therapy to help strengthen your forearm muscles. Along with performing certain exercises, your physical therapist may also use muscle stimulation and massage to encourage and speed up the healing process.
Many people who suffer from tennis elbow find that a brace helps alleviate their symptoms. To be effective, the brace should cover the back of the forearm. This will help give your muscles and tendons the support they need while keeping them immobile for healing.
Shock Wave Therapy
The use of shock wave therapy is still experimental, but there is some evidence that it can be effective. With this therapy, shock waves are sent to your elbow, which creates what they call “microtrauma.” This tiny bit of trauma triggers the body’s healing processes.
Natural Treatments for Tennis Elbow
Along with conventional treatments and physical therapy, there are also many tennis elbow natural treatments that can help ease the symptoms of tennis elbow.
CBD works with your endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS is a cell-signaling system that everyone has. Some researchers believe that CBD interacts with your ECS along with your brain and immune system. The CB1 and CB2 receptors in your brain and immune system receive signals from different stimuli and help your cells respond. When your cells respond, your body creates anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving effects. Because of this response CBD has been on the rise in popularity, especially for those who suffer from fibromyalgia, arthritis and other chronic pain and inflammation.
This suggests that CBD may have the potential to reduce pain due to acute inflammation or injury, such as pain from tennis elbow.
Dimethyl sulfoxide, better known as DMSO, comes from a substance naturally found in wood. It’s often found in sports locker rooms because it can help soothe aching muscles and encourage injury healing.
Along with being an anti-inflammatory, DMSO also has anti-fungal, anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties and it helps boost the absorption of other ingredients. It’s often found in pain-relieving creams and gels for this reason.
There is evidence that DMSO may be effective for tennis elbow. In one study, 102 patients diagnosed with tennis elbow or rotator cuff tendinitis received treatment using topical DMSO. Patients experienced improvements in pain, tenderness, swelling and range of motion.
The ancient Chinese practice of acupuncture is often used to treat painful conditions, and tennis elbow is no exception.
A 2005 review, which was published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, found that the participants who received acupuncture experienced significant pain relief compared to those who received a placebo. The group that received the acupuncture experienced a 55.8% reduction in pain compared to just a 15% reduction in those who received the placebo.
While there is evidence that acupuncture provides immediate relief from tennis elbow symptoms, there is also evidence that this relief only lasts a few weeks.
Rest and exercise, which are both part of conventional treatment regimens, can complement natural therapies to speed up the healing of tennis elbow. Most patients will overcome their symptoms without having to undergo surgery.