Now that the cold is long gone and the trees are filled with blooms and buds, many are pulling out their rackets and other gear to participate in a little tennis. Quite often, I treat tennis players and other athletes who have developed significant forearm and elbow pain. Most often this pain is diagnosed as tennis elbow, or the more scientific term, lateral epicondylitis. Tennis elbow most commonly affects the top of the forearm (wrist extensors) and the outside of the elbow (lateral epicondyle). A person can be diagnosed with tennis elbow or lateral epicondylitis even if they don’t play the sport. In fact, tennis elbow affects 1% to 3% of the population and, overall, 10% to 50% of tennis players during their careers. Fewer than 5% of tennis elbow diagnoses are related to tennis. Most of these injuries occur due to incorrect postures, repetitive motions without breaks, and good ole fashioned overuse. There are many ways to avoid tennis elbow or decrease the pain associated with the condition. Here are four tips that I recommend most frequently to my patients:
- Listen to your body. Most of the time our body gives us warning signs. Do not ignore the small pain you are having in your elbow and forearm. These small pains can become bigger pains quickly. Once aware of pain in your forearm or elbow, discontinue the activity as soon as possible and put ice on the region for approximately 20 minutes. I don’t recommend returning to that activity until the pain has resolved.
- Warm up properly. Whether you are a competitive athlete, weekend warrior or an industrial athlete, warming up prior to activity is essential to avoiding injury. If you don’t know how to warm up properly consult your physical therapist or trainer or in the case of a work-related activity, speak with your human resource department.
- Take breaks. Sustained postures are frequently the culprit for injury just as repetitive movements are. Sustained postures can decrease the amount of oxygen that your tissue receives as well as create muscle imbalances that can lead to pain. Taking a 30 second to 1 minute break to stretch during activities and throughout the work day can be instrumental in avoiding tennis elbow and other injuries.
- Use ice. If during an activity or at the end of the activity or work day you notice swelling, apply ice for 20-30 minutes to reduce inflammation.
Prevention is the key to avoiding tennis elbow or any other cumulative type injury. Seek the help of a professional to learn more about preventing injury.