We are pleased to publish our first guest post by Dr. Travis Sizemore. Dr. Sizemore practices at Fraum Chiropractic Life Center. He is becoming known as the golf and tennis doctor in Hilton Head. In this post he answers the question, “what is tennis elbow?” More importantly he gives us some helpful information on how to treat and prevent this affliction which most of us encounter at least once in our tennis lives!
What is Tennis Elbow?
We’ve all heard the name. And most likely we’ve known someone who has been diagnosed with it. It has a cousin in the golf realm, but it is on the opposite side of the arm. So what is “tennis elbow?” WebMD defines tennis elbow, or lateral epicondylitis, in medical terms as “a common term for a condition caused by overuse of the arm, forearm, and hand muscles that results in elbow pain.” And I’ll add specifically that tennis elbow occurs on the outer part of the elbow, or the thumb side. When similar pain occurs on the inner, or pinky-finger side, of the elbow, it is called “golfer’s elbow.” The different sides of the elbow just mentioned refer to the pinky and thumb when the patient is standing with arms down to the side, thumbs pointing out.
Who Gets Tennis Elbow?
Tennis elbow first got its name in the late 1800’s when a paper referred to it as “lawn tennis elbow”. It tends to affect genders equally, and is more common in people over the age of 40. It can afflict anyone that makes repetitive motions with the arm, especially the fore-hand and back-hand motion, such as in tennis. According to Wikipedia, “about 39.7% (of tennis players) have reported current or previous problems with their elbow. Less than one quarter (24%) of these athletes under the age of 50 reported that the tennis elbow symptoms were “severe” and “disabling,” while 42% over 50 -more women (36%) than men (24%) -considered their symptoms severe and disabling.” In addition to tennis players, tennis elbow is a common ailment of basketball players, assembly line workers, and people who type repetitively- just to name a few. This motion is shown in the picture below.
In my own line of work as a Chiropractor, I’ve had a few bouts of tennis elbow due to the torque on my right elbow during adjusting. The first time it happened I was practicing in Virginia and was the team Chiropractor for James Madison University Athletics. One of my good friends was the basketball trainer there and he gave me a compression sleeve to wear. It was made of a thin sock-like material. I had my doubts. But after 2 weeks of wearing it the pain subsided. I had no more trouble for several years. When it did rear its ugly head again, I simply wore that compression sleeve for a few days and the pain was gone.
How Do You Treat and Prevent Tennis Elbow?
Okay, so I have tennis elbow. Now what? How do I treat it? Can I prevent it from occurring again? Good questions. Besides using a compression sleeve as I mentioned above, you will also want to use ice on the elbow for a period of 20 minutes, leaving an hour between ice sessions, and doing 3-4 sessions per day for 2 weeks. I’m not a very big fan of tennis elbow straps. On some folks it makes the problem worse by putting too much pressure on the tendon. So I grab the compression sleeve for myself- and for my patients.
Getting a chiropractic adjustment of the elbow also helps to heal the tissue. A chiropractor may also use electric stimulation or therapeutic ultrasound to help speed the process of healing, as well as physical therapy, which will rehab the muscles and tendons through exercise and stretches. Once healed, these same stretches and exercises can also help prevent tennis elbow from recurring.
Physio-taping, in conjunction with other forms of treatment, has become a very popular method of treating injuries like tennis elbow. Physio tape is about the thickness of skin and has an acrylic adhesive that allows the tape to help heal injuries and relieve pain without binding or restricting movement.
There are also exercises that can help prevent tennis elbow. Some of these include stress ball squeezes, hand flexion and extension stretches, and holding a very light weight in the hands with arms stretched out while raising the hands up and down.
There are several other things that can be done, and should be done on a case by case basis. If you think you may have tennis elbow, or lateral epicondylitis, get an evaluation by a sports chiropractor or physical therapist, or even a good trainer. Ask them how to implement the above procedures, and for specific exercises for your case! Finally, to prevent sports injuries in general, one of the biggest keys is to use proper form in whatever you are doing, whether it be tennis or working the assembly line. I CAN’T STRESS THIS ENOUGH! Proper form is everything!
See you on the court!
Dr. Travis Sizemore
Chiropractor Specializing in Golf and Tennis Injuries and Prevention
1403 Main Street Village
Hilton Head Island, SC 29926