There are many orthopedic conditions that are named after the activity in which the problem tends to develop with more regularity — runner’s knee, pitcher’s shoulder, and, yes, tennis elbow. What each of these conditions has in common is that they’re overuse injuries that can develop while engaging in the named sport as well as under other circumstances.
As a sports medicine specialist, William Schell, MD, is an expert in the field of musculoskeletal injuries that tend to crop up in athletes, including tennis elbow. Whether you’re an avid tennis enthusiast or you engage in another activity that places added stress on your elbows, you want to avoid tennis elbow. Here’s how.
The makings of tennis elbow
In order to prevent a sports injury like tennis elbow, it’s important to understand the mechanics behind the problem. Tennis elbow is also referred to as lateral epicondylitis, which describes the location of the problem.
Your elbow joint is where your upper arm bone (humerus) meets the two bones in your forearm — your radius and ulna. At the bottom of your humerus are two epicondyles, which are bony bumps that serve as anchors for the muscles in your forearm.
When you develop tennis elbow, the tendons and muscles that are attached to the outside bump of your elbow, your lateral epicondyle, develop tiny micro tears that lead to painful inflammation. These muscles and tendons control the extension of your fingers and your wrist — the same soft tissues that you rely upon when you play a racquet game such as tennis.
As we mentioned tennis elbow doesn’t only occur on the courts and can develop in people who overstress their forearm muscles with repetitive movements, such as painters or plumbers.
Preventing tennis elbow
Since tennis elbow is typically due to repetitive stress, it makes sense that the first step you should take is to avoid overtaxing these soft tissues. Of course, this may not be the answer you’re looking for, as you still need to use your elbow to enjoy your sport or to earn a living.
If you can’t cut down on the repetition, it’s important that you strengthen the soft tissues surrounding your joint so that they can meet the heightened demands.
To get you started, here are some great strengthening and stretching exercises:
Wrist extensor flexes
Put your arm straight in front of you with your palm facing up and forward (as if you were telling someone to stop). Gently pull your fingers back toward your body and hold the stretch for 30 seconds. Repeat 2-5 times on each arm.
Roll up a towel and hold it between your two hands. Twist the towel in opposite directions as if you were wringing it out, and repeat 10 times.
Lift small weights
Grab a small weight — just a pound or two — and hold the weight in your hand and bend your elbow into a right angle with your palm facing your body. Now, bend your wrist backward and then toward your body. Repeat this with each arm about 10-20 times.
These are just a few exercises to get started, and we’re happy to give you more.
Outside of preventive exercises and stretches, it’s important that you listen to your body and come see us at the first signs of a problem. If you develop pain on the outside of your elbow, we can design a treatment program that will relieve your pain and guide you toward regaining full use of your elbow.
To learn more about tennis elbow, contact our New York City office, which is located on Columbus Circle on the Upper West Side.