The elbow joint is formed by three bones: the humerus (upper arm), the radius and the ulna.
A complex structure and anatomy
The elbow joint permits the ulna and radius to be flexed and straightened like a pivot joint. The muscles along the outer border of the forearm are responsible for this.
The tendons transmit the power of the muscles to the bone. They consist of firm, elastic connective tissue. If we repeatedly perform the same movement with a flexed elbow, the tense tendon continually rubs over the elbow bone. This leads to very fine tears and we feel the first twinges of pain in our elbow – at the epicondyle. This is a small bony prominence on the outside of the elbow.
What is tennis elbow or golfer's elbow?
Tennis elbow (lateral epicondylitis) and golfer’s elbow (medial epicondylitis) are painful conditions that occur when tendons in your elbow are overloaded, usually by repetitive motions of the wrist and arm. Did you know that you can still get tennis elbow even if you’ve never played tennis? In principle, tennis elbow or golfer’s elbow can stem from any activity in which the hand has to grip permanently with the elbow bent. These movements can overload the extensor tendons at the elbow. This then results in inflammation and pain.
These days, tennis and golfer’s elbow also occur in people who often sit in front of a computer and work with a mouse. When playing actual tennis or golf, it usually affects players with bad technique or athletes who simply try too hard. It also affects those whose jobs feature the types of motions that can lead to tennis elbow including plumbers, painters, landscapers, carpenters and butchers.
Signs and symptoms of epicondylitis
The pain of tennis elbow occurs primarily where the tendons of your forearm muscles attach to a bony bump on the outside of your elbow. Pain can also spread into your forearm and wrist. In general, the affected elbow only hurts when it is moved, for example, when gripping and lifting. The strength in the hand and fingers can decrease and it becomes more difficult to carry heavy objects. The muscles in the forearm are often very tense. A ‘pins and needles’ sensation may develop in parallel. A doctor will make his diagnosis on the basis of a simple physical examination. He will ask the patient to extend his/her wrist and to turn the arm at the elbow against resistance. If the pain worsens, this is a sign of tennis elbow.
What causes tennis or golfer's elbow?
Important: the cause is not at the elbow itself, but in the muscles of the hand and fingers. If these are chronically overworked or used incorrectly, tennis elbow can develop. This incorrect use or overwork typically occurs for those using a mouse with a computer. But renovation or plastering work, shelving maintenance, mowing the lawn or trimming the hedge, can put a strain on the muscles of the hand and thus on the elbow joint itself. Occupational groups such as plumbers or mechanics are also often affected.
- Use the right techniques when playing tennis and, if necessary, invest in a few coaching sessions.
- In an office environment, cushioned mouse pads and ergonomically designed mice help the wrist. It might also help to learn the shortcuts that can be entered using the keyboard.
- Buy a powered screwdriver if you often assemble new furniture.
- Lift objects up in such a way that the palms of the hand face your body.
- And last but not least: watch out for signs of overwork and take a break when needed.
Tennis elbow can usually be healed without an operation
In order for tennis elbow to heal without surgery, the patient has to change his familiar sequences of movements at work and in sports to avoid one-sided stresses and strains. A wide range of add-on treatment approaches can help relieve the symptoms.
Many doctors initially recommend elbow supports such as Epicomed® from medi® for the irritated tendons. The compressive knit of these supports reduces pressure and supports the affected forearm musculature. This relieves tension on the tendons.
These days, medical devices are small and light. They can be worn during the day under clothing without any problem. They contribute to the treatment of tennis elbow and are thus perfect allies for all epicondylitis patients.