Lateral Epicondylitis – previously known as Archer’s Elbow, but now more often called Tennis Elbow is a repetitive strain injury that affects a lot more people than just those who enjoy racquet sports. Swimmers, climbers and anyone doing a lot of manual work may find themselves with pain around the elbow or a pain that stretches down to the wrist when gripping or lifting. Often caused by over exertion or continuous exertion of the arm, a strain injury can also be caused by a direct blow to, or sudden pull of the Common Extension Tendon or the Lateral Epicondyl – one of the knuckles forming the elbow – that the tendon attaches to.
The actual pain of this injury can be caused by a couple of very different ways. Firstly, the Common Extension Tendon can tear, and these tears can produce pain. A recent US study found 71% of ‘tennis elbow’ sufferers exhibited tearing at the tendon cuff. But what about the other 29%? Well, many of these were dealing with pain originating from the radial nerve instead. This long nerve stretches from the shoulder to the wrist and has to negotiate its way around the elbow. If it should become constricted by the tendon or the Epicondyl then the nerve itself can become the source of the pain.
Stretching and treating the arm muscles and elbow remain the most effective treatments for Tennis Elbow. This kind of injury can be a ‘use it or lose it’ variety, so immobilising the effected area is not considered the best idea. Treatment of the spinal muscles in the cervical and thoracic regions have also proven to be beneficial.
Relapses are not uncommon (in up to 50% of cases) so prevention can be as important as the cure. Reducing the elbow’s exposure to strain and injury is good place to start, and if it is actually a sports injury, playing sport while the elbow is sore is something you should avoid. Keeping the entire body in good physical condition will help more than just the elbow too, and forearm strengthening exercises are a must – increased muscle strength helps to stabilise joints and keep those tendons from tearing or the radial nerve getting pinched.
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