Tennis Elbow, also called lateral epicondylitis, is inflammation of the wrist extensor tendons where it attaches at the elbow. More specifically, the tendons involved are the Extensor Carpi Radialis and Extensor Digitorum. For years, tennis elbow has been called tendonitis (which means acute inflammation), but upon examination, there is very little inflammation in the tendon due to the chronic nature of the disorder. A more accurate term is tendonopathy or tendonosis.
Tennis players are not the only ones who suffer from this. Anyone who performs repeated movements with their wrist (computer programmers, musicians, carpenters) can have tennis elbow. Traditionally, physical therapy treatment of tennis elbow has included cross friction massage to the tendon, modalities such as ultrasound or electrical stimulation, bracing and therapeutic exercise. More recently, research has shown that the prescription of therapeutic eccentric exercises is a very effective way in treating tendinopathies. Eccentric exercises effectively lengthen the muscle-tendon complex, remodeling the tendon and increasing the tensile strength of the painful tendon.
So, what does PT look like for my patients who have tennis elbow? First thing is to make corrections to posture and body mechanics to take undo stress off the wrist extensor tendons. Second, the use of ice or heat still is effective in reducing some of the pain and soreness that people experience. And finally the teaching people therapeutic eccentric exercises to do on a daily basis at home or at work will effectively help reduce pain and facilitate proper healing of the tendon.
Want more info on the research behind this? Keep reading…