Tennis elbow occurs when the tendons that attach the muscles in your forearm to the elbow joint become inflamed or damaged. Tennis elbow symptoms include pain and swelling in the area, as well as an inability to do specific tasks because of pain or reduced movement. Unfortunately, tennis elbow will not get better on its own. You will need to rehabilitate the area in order to get your elbow back to normal. Rehabilitation and treatment options include the following:
1. Discontinuance of the sport/job/hobby that caused the injury.
This is probably the most important aspect of rehabilitating tennis elbow. The injury to your elbow is almost always caused by repeated, strong motions that eventually over-work the muscles and tendons that are close to your elbow. If you continue to use your arm, you will only make the problem worse. Common repeated-motion activities that lead to tennis elbow include
- painting walls with a roller
- tennis (hence the name of the condition)
- weight lifting
- chopping meat and other food
- opening heavy doors
2. Reducing pain and inflammation.
Initial rehabilitation will mostly focus on helping the tendons that are injured to "calm down". Usually, this means
- treating the area with a cold compress. Especially if elbow over-use is caused by your employment, you will probably need to apply cold compresses daily until you can find alternative ways to get your work done-- ways that don't affect your injury.
- using electrical stimulation or ultrasound to help relax the area. Sometimes, the tendons can become stiff, or the muscles attached to them can tighten to an extreme. Stimulating these areas with ultrasound waves and electrical impulses will help them to relax, taking some of the pressure off the joint.
- bracing the area. Your orthopedist may even design a special brace for the elbow to help provide support to strained muscles and ligaments. Preventing further strain is a big part of reducing overall pain.
- steroid shots. If the pain is very bad, your orthopedic specialist will probably recommend a steroid shot to the affected muscles and tendons. Steroids help to reduce inflammation, which will decrease your overall level of pain. They work by suppressing your natural genetic inflammatory response to injuries, and are widely used in many aspects of the medical field.
3. Stretching and exercising the area to make it stronger at it heals.
After the inflammation is under control, you can start doing some mild exercises to restore range of motion in your elbow. The exercises will include
- stretching. Stretching your forearm will help to take pressure off the tendons, while also improving muscular flexibility. At first, you may not be able to hold the stretches very long, depending on your pain level. But try to increase stretch durations by a few seconds each day in order to get the full benefits of stretch treatment.
- strengthening. These exercises are not nearly as strenuous as lifting weights, but they do target the muscles in your arm and help to slowly allow more movement through the elbow. Some common exercises include stretching an elastic band open with all five fingers, or resisting pressure as someone pushes down on your forearm.
4. Gradual returning to previous levels of activity.
After you have completed a course of physical therapy, your doctor will be ready to help you get back into your occupation or sport. You shouldn't just jump back in all at once-- returning full use to your elbow should be a gradual process. At first, do only a light form of the exercise with modified speed/resistance. You can slowly increase both speed and resistance as your strength returns.
If you try to rehabilitate tennis elbow and see very little progress, it's time to talk to an orthopedic surgeon about surgically repairing the damage. Sometimes, if a tendon is badly torn or has separated from the elbow entirely, surgery is the best course of action for treatment. You can get in touch with an orthopedic surgeon at http://www.towncenterorthopaedics.com. Don't just live with elbow pain-- talk to a medical professional so that you can get your arm back on track.