A popular sport among professional and amateur athletes, tennis not only engages the mind and the body, but it also offers a range of health benefits, including muscle development and improved coordination. However, as with any other sport, it can lead to injuries, such as an ankle sprain and tissue damage from muscle overuse. One of the injuries commonly linked to this sport is lateral epicondylitis, more widely known as tennis elbow.
What Is Tennis Elbow?
Characterized by pain on the outside of the forearm, near where it meets the elbow, tennis elbow results from small tears in the tendons that connect the forearm muscle to the bones in the elbow. The repetitive motion of bending and straightening the elbow, particularly while gripping a racket and hitting a ball, can lead to such tears. Moreover, the chances of getting tennis elbow increase if you grip the racquet too tightly or use improper technique to hit the ball.
The tiny tears in the tendons and muscles near the elbow cause inflammation, which leads to pain, swelling, and limited range of motion. If left untreated, an annoying ache in the outside of the elbow can turn into recurring pain and make it difficult to grip objects. Tennis elbow can afflict anyone and is not always related to tennis, so if these symptoms sound familiar, it might be worth exploring treatment.
How to Treat Tennis Elbow
Tennis elbow is most often treated with a combination of rest, cold therapy, pain medication, and physical therapy. Cold therapy helps reduce pain and swelling and promotes healing in the damaged tissues, particularly when combined with active compression. Pain medications help reduce discomfort and may also help control swelling if they contain an anti-inflammatory agent.
After the pain and swelling have started to subside, physical therapy can help strengthen weak muscles to help prevent tennis elbow in the future. Some exercises used to treat and prevent tennis elbow include:
- Clenching and releasing a soft object in your fist
- Rotating the forearm with a light weight
- Flexing and extending the wrist with a light weight
- Twisting a towel to increase wrist strength
Performing these types of exercises before getting injured can also help prevent tennis elbow.
Other Tennis Tips
After tennis elbow has healed, the injury could return due to continued repetitive use. Follow these additional tips to help stave off injury.
- Prepare your body: Supplement your tennis practices with exercises that build the muscles in the wrists and forearms.
- Warm up sufficiently: Include light wrist and forearm stretches in your warm-up to prepare the muscles and tendons for activity.
- Use proper technique: Use a racket appropriate for your body size and avoid gripping it too tightly. Work with a professional to learn the grip and stroke techniques that help you avoid injury.
- Avoid over-repetition: Tennis elbow is primarily caused by repetitive motion, so avoid overuse by capping the number of times you repeat a stroke, changing strokes throughout practice, and cross-training to build supporting muscle groups.
For more tips on how to help treat tennis elbow and other common sports injuries, download The Complete Guide to Upper Extremity Injury and Surgery Recovery.