Tennis elbow can be a long lasting niggly problem that is difficult to get rid of! The reason for this is that you just can’t stop using your hand or your arm so it is constantly being irritated.
Tennis elbow is an irritation of the tendons of the forearm as they insert at the elbow. It’s characterised by pain and tenderness on the outside of your elbow about an inch and a half round from the bony point. If severely irritated you can get some pain going down into the forearm muscle as the muscle bulk works harder to try and take the strain off the insertion point. With tennis elbow you will never get pain above the elbow, it cannot refer pain there. So, if you have pain above and below the elbow it may be nerve pain referred from your neck so you need to get a physiotherapist to look at it and find out the root cause.
If you suspect that it is just tennis elbow you can start some treatment yourself. Self management includes:
- icing it daily for 10 mins with the ice wrapped in a damp tea-towel to protect your skin from an ice burn
- stretching your elbow tendons – place your arm in front of you with the palm facing down, point your fingers down towards the floor by moving the wrist and keeping the arm horizontally. Now with the fingertips pointing down rotate the fingers to turn towards the little finger until you feel tightness in the elbow, hold it for 40 seconds within pain limits and repeat 5 times a day. If you feel pain you are causing damage. Stretches are essential to ensure that the tendons heal in a lengthened position. Without them treatment will fail as you’ll re-tear the tendons next time you overstretch!
- you can buy an elbow brace to take the load off but in my experience people don’t often have them on correctly so they do no good
- try and use your other arm to give it a rest
If you’ve tried these for 2-3 weeks and it’s not improving or is getting worse you need to see a physiotherapist. Don’t let this grumble on otherwise it’s really difficult to get better and you don’t want to end up needing a steroid injection. Cortisone doesn’t fix the problem, it masks the pain but it also weakens the tendon. Good to avoid if possible. You can also eat an anti-inflammatory diet to help calm it down quicker or include natural anti-inflammatories in your normal diet so that you don’t have to take painkillers.