Lateral epicondylitis is an overuse injury involving the tendons on the outside of the elbow. Often termed “tennis elbow”, this condition can arise from repetitive movements of the wrist and elbow. Excessive stress on the wrist extensor and finger extensor muscles can cause inflammation and eventually tendon degeneration. Repetitive movements that can lead to lateral epicondylitis include tennis, hedge clipping, excessive use of a hammer or screwdriver, painting, or any activity that requires constant gripping, or squeezing. If you have a desk job, you can easily overuse the wrist and finger muscles in an eight hour work day by typing and moving the computer mouse around. This can lead to developing tennis elbow, especially if your workstation is not ergonomically sound.
Signs and symptoms of lateral epicondylitis include, pain that radiates from the outside of your elbow into your forearm and wrist, pain when you touch or bump the outside of your elbow, or a weak or painful grip during certain activities such as shaking hands, lifting, or twisting a doorknob. You also may feel pain at rest in more severe cases.
Tennis elbow does not usually lead to serious problems, however if the condition is left untreated, loss of motion or loss of function of the elbow and forearm can develop. Discontinuing activities that cause the pain is the first step to proper treatment of lateral epicondylitis. Using the R.I.C.E. method (rest, ice, compression, and elevation) in the early stages of the injury is extremely helpful to reduce swelling and relieve pain.
Physical therapy may be indicated if the pain does not subside. Modalities such as ultrasound and iontophoresis, a topical steroid, can help to decrease the inflammation. Cold laser treatments can be extremely beneficial in helping heal damaged tendons and muscles. Light energy is absorbed by the cells of injured tissues stimulating cell regeneration. A physical therapist can also perform an ergonomic assessment of your workstation and make adjustments to help decrease stress on the elbow, forearm, and hand. Soft tissue mobilization and specific stretching and strengthening exercises also play a key role in the rehabilitation process.
Recurrence of this condition is common. The involved tendons are essentially weakened by the pathology and are ill-equipped to withstand provoking motions. That is why it is critical to continue rehab for the prescribed length of time. Return to activity should not occur too quickly and preventive exercises that stretch and strengthen the muscles should be done on a consistent basis.
If you have any questions about lateral epicondylitis, cold laser treatments, ergonomic evaluations, or any other musculoskeletal injuries please contact Ascent Physical Therapy at (970) 949-9966 in our Avon office or (970) 328-5230 in our Eagle office.