What is Tennis Elbow?
Tennis Elbow is a common ailment from repetitive activities, involving the wrist and elbow. The name came from the most common cause – tennis, but weight lifting, painting, welding and house cleaning, are all activities also prone to this condition.
Pain is located on the outside of the elbow, just below the bony ridge known as the lateral epicondyle. Any activity that requires gripping/turning of the wrist, such as: turning a door knob, brushing your hair, or opening a jar, will all be weak and painful.
“Lateral Epicondylitis” was traditionally the medical term for Tennis Elbow, with “itis” indicating an inflammatory component. Treatments were then focused around reducing inflammation, such as: ice, anti-inflammatories and steroid injections. But research about 10 years ago found this to be a misconception. The inflammatory stage only lasts a few days. Therefore, the pain after a few days, could not be attributed to inflammation.
It was then theorized that the tendon (where the muscle attaches to the bone) did not heal properly and continued use would cause micro-tears in a weakened tissue. – “Tendonosis”. Treatments were then focused on stretching and eccentric strengthening. Some found relief, but why did so many still go on to become chronic?
The focus had always been on the tendon, but new research has recently found that 85% of those with lateral elbow pain, actually have a “joint derangement” or mechanical disorder that interferes with the normal function of the small elbow joint. It sounds daunting, but is actually usually easily treated!
Repetitive motion puts strain on a the joint, especially if the motion is awkward or has poor mechanics. This strain can cause a microscopic piece of your cartilage to break off in the joint that is being over used. Joints have cartilage protecting not only the outer layer of bone, but also an extra buffer between the bones. (Meniscus in the knee; labrum in the hip/shoulder, disc in the spine.) This is part of the natural wear and tear process, but excessive activity combined with poor mechanics will advance this breakdown and is known as a “derangement”. Even though this piece is very small, it can cause pain and loss of motion if it interferes with the joints smooth mobility.
Treatment for Tennis Elbow:
Is your pain from a derangement (85%) or from the tendon – Tendinosis (15%)?
The majority of pain from Tennis Elbow is found to be the result of a derangement. Pain from a derangement is usually easily reduced. This mechanical problem within the joint, simply needs to be cleared. If you have a pebble in your shoe, it is painful to walk. If you simply shake your foot, so the pebble move into your toe box, you can now walk without pain. The pebble is still there, you just moved it out of the way. Similarly, if you are able to move the small particle out of the joints arc of motion, you will no longer have pain.
The derangement can be anywhere within the joint, but most commonly in the elbow there is a slight loss of the ability to fully straighten the elbow. This is then often the direction to clear the derangement out of the way. A way to test is to first find a baseline, or activity that causes pain. It could be squeezing something, or resist as you extend your fingers. Perform that painful activity and assess your pain. Next, straighten your elbow and then relax by bending it slightly. Perform this10 times, each time trying to go a bit further into extension or straightening your elbow. Retest your baseline activity. Do you have more, less or the same amount of pain performing?
If you have less…Great…you found your self-treatment!
If there is no change, then it could still be a derangement. You would just need further guidance to find the right direction to clear the derangement. Or you may have poor tissue healing – Tendonosis. A clinician specialized in Mechanical Assessment and Treatment could give you advice on what you need to abolish the pain. (Contact a mechanical specialist: www.mckenzieinstituteusa.org Find a clinician. Or connect with a specialist virtually www.virtualphysicaltherapists.com )
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