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August 2010
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  • Elbow Injuries- What is Tennis Elbow?

    Tennis elbow is a common condition that affects most tennis players at some point in their playing career.  Some may only experience mild cases while others may be forced to stop playing for sometimes months or years at a time.  So what is this mysterious condition which seems to plague players from the newbie to the professional?

    tennis elbowFirst of all, the condition of tennis elbow is also called lateral epicondylitis which is an inflammation of the common extensor tendon that attaches to the outer part of the elbow (lateral epicondyle).  This condition can happen as a result of a macrotrauma or microtrauma.  Most patients fall under the 2nd category which is another way of saying it’s a repetitive stress injury or RSI.  RSI’s usually develop as a result of performing a repeated action to an area that may not be conditioned well enough to handle the load or stress from that repeated action.

    In mild cases of tennis elbow, patients will usually be able to experience relief of symptoms with rest, ice, compression and support through either a brace or elbow wrap.  However, most patients will often develop an increase in symptoms that may be present even when they are not playing tennis.  Perhaps they notice difficulties with activities of daily living like brushing their teeth, or reaching into the refrigerator for milk or even shaking a person’s hand! It’s during these situations where it is important to look at the big picture on what causes tennis elbow.

    If the inflammation of the extensor tendon (forearm extensor muscles) is the problem, then what causes that tendon to become inflammed in the first place?  The answer usually requires a fair amount of detective work to figure out what the greatest contributor may be to cause the inflammation in the first place.  For example, the overload on that tendon may be coming from a weakness in the area, a lack of flexibility, joint space compromise (bone spurs, worn cartilage), rotator cuff or shoulder muscle imbalance and not mention the racquet and technique component.  Things like improper grip size, racquet weight, racquet balance,racquet head size,  string type, string tension AND swing technique can also play a major role in the complexity of tennis elbow.  Of course, we can’t forget the biochemical component as well.  Lack of proper hydration and a poor diet can also affect the healing rate of the tendon as well as how the inflammatory cycle is regulated for that person.  Diet can determine whether or not chemical reactions in the body are happening at an excessive rate or not happening at all.

    Therefore, it is important to look at tennis elbow in three ways – the physical component, the equipment component and the biochemical component.  The greatest results in managing this condition will usually come when all three areas are investigated and treated for optimal results.  For example, someone with tennis elbow may not experience full relief unless they properly stretch and strengthen their elbow and shoulder – modify their equipment and stroke to improve the efficiency of movement and reduce the likelihood of improper elbow loading – and tweak their diet to properly hydrate their body and fuel their muscles with protein to control the inflammatory cycle.  Only then will a person reach their best results.

    Often times, a person dealing with tennis elbow may feel like they will never be able to play the sport they love because of the chronic nature of this condition.  However, it’s never too late to have your elbow, equipment and nutrition assessed by the proper professionals to see if perhaps previously attempted treatments failed because the treatment only focused on the physical aspect only.  Personally, I have treated hundreds of elbow complaints and I always reach the best results once we properly manage all three components.

    So, the next time you feel that twinge or ache in your elbow after a few sets of tennis – think about what you can do to improve the three areas we mentioned above.  Then think about how much fun the sport of tennis could be if you never had to worry about whether or not your elbow was going to “act up” on you.  The game of tennis gives you plenty to think about without you having to worry about elbow pain.

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