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How to Prevent Tennis Elbow (Lateral Epicondylitis)

Despite its name, tennis elbow (otherwise known as lateral epicondylitis) can affect anyone, not just tennis players. The term “tennis elbow” refers to pain on the outside of the elbow where the muscles that extend the wrist and fingers attach to the bone called the distal humerus. 

Causes of Tennis Elbow

“In the past, people thought that tennis elbow was from overuse,” said Summit hand, wrist, and upper extremity surgeon Debra Parisi, M.D. “However, recently, we have learned that tennis elbow is caused by tissue degeneration at the interface between the tendon and the bone. This degeneration is a very common process that occurs with aging.” 

The good news is, although tennis elbow is a degenerative condition (like osteoarthritis), your body can heal the tendon (unlike osteoarthritis, where the body is unable to heal the aging joint). Although tennis elbow cannot be prevented (because we cannot prevent the aging process), there are things that you can do to minimize the pain and the impact that this condition can have on your life.

Tennis elbow prevention tips

1. Although tennis elbow is not caused by repetitive motion, repetitive activity can aggravate the pain. Identify the activities that aggravate the symptoms. If possible, stopping or modifying these activities can help with ongoing pain.

2. Stretch. Stretching the muscles that are involved in tennis elbow has been shown to help minimize pain. Stretching frequently before, during, and after repetitive activity may minimize the inflammation at the interface between the degenerating tendon and the bone.

3. Strengthen. After your pain level has gone down, it is important to strengthen the muscles that extend the wrist and fingers. Strengthening the forearm muscles reduces the likelihood that tennis elbow will recur. Learning how to transfer some of the effort to your arm and shoulders can also unload the damaged tendon.

If you are unable to manage your tennis elbow symptoms on your own, please reach out for professional help. Your Summit provider can refer you to a physical or occupational therapist. Physical and occupational therapy can develop stretching and strengthening programs but can also provide modalities (such as deep tissue massage and ultrasound) that encourage new blood vessel growth in the area and facilitate healing of the degenerating tendon. 

The good news is that 90% of patients with tennis elbow will get better, although it can take a while before patients feel 100%.