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Tennis elbow, medically known as lateral epicondylitis, results from overuse or repetitive movements of the forearm and wrist. This condition involves damage to the forearm muscles and tendons, which leads to pain and swelling.
Tennis elbow is not limited to tennis players. It can affect anyone engaged in activities that require gripping, twisting, or lifting, such as painting, typing, and playing musical instruments.
Tennis elbow arises from a combination of factors, including the following:
The onset of symptoms in tennis elbow is typically gradual, with the pain initially being mild and intensifying over time. This pain is often felt on the outer part of the elbow and can extend into the forearm and wrist. Activities that involve lifting objects, gripping, or turning the wrist (like turning a doorknob) may exacerbate the pain. Straightening the elbow might also be painful, and this pain may increase at night.
Another noticeable sign is a weakness in grip strength. This can make everyday tasks challenging.
The process of diagnosing tennis elbow typically involves a combination of clinical examination and, if necessary, imaging tests.
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Non-surgical treatment methods are typically the first line of treatment for tennis elbow. They aim to effectively manage and relieve symptoms.
Rest and Activity Modification
In less serious cases, the elbow specialist may suggest providing the affected arm with adequate rest and avoiding activities that exacerbate the symptoms. This helps reduce stress on the injured tendons.
Over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen or naproxen sodium are often used to alleviate pain and reduce inflammation.
Physical therapy involves exercises that stretch and strengthen the forearm muscles. Techniques like ultrasound or manual therapy may also be employed to promote healing and reduce inflammation.
Utilising elbow braces or straps can aid in recovery by reducing stress on the injured tissue.
In cases where pain persists, injections of corticosteroids might be considered to reduce inflammation.
Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP)
PRP injections can also be used for persistent pain. This involves using a concentration of the patient’s platelets to stimulate healing in the affected tendons.
When non-surgical treatments do not provide sufficient relief or for more persistent cases of tennis elbow, surgical intervention may be considered.
This uses ultrasound guidance to remove diseased muscle or tendon tissue. This approach stimulates healing in the surrounding tissues and can often be performed through small, keyhole incisions.
Alternatively, arthroscopic surgery may be employed. This technique uses several small incisions and special instruments to repair the damaged tendon.
In some cases, open surgery might be necessary. This involves making larger incisions to remove the damaged tissue and reattach the tendon to the bone.
To reduce the risk of developing or exacerbating tennis elbow, the following strategies may be considered.
With over 18 years of experience, Dr Poh Seng Yew is an orthopaedic surgeon specialising in hip, knee, shoulder and elbow surgery, sports medicine, and trauma surgery.
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While tennis elbow can show improvement with rest and conservative measures, medical intervention is often beneficial. If symptoms persist, consult our elbow specialist for appropriate management strategies to prevent complications.
Tennis elbow can indeed develop in one or both arms, often due to repetitive strain or overuse. Seek individualised treatment for each arm if affected.
Neglecting tennis elbow may lead to chronic pain, a decrease in grip strength, and potential long-term disability. Early consultation with an elbow specialist can prevent the progression of the condition and facilitate effective treatment.
The healing duration for tennis elbow varies, depending on the severity and the treatment approach. Generally, recovery can span from a few weeks to several months.