Tennis elbow and Golfer’s elbow are the common names for conditions that involve the elbow. Tennis elbow tends to affect the outer elbow, while golfer’s elbow affects the inner elbow. These two spots correspond to where the forearm muscles attach into the elbow – the muscles that extend the wrist on the outside and the muscles that flex the wrist on the inside.
There are several theories as to why these conditions develop, but the most commonly cited cause is that of overuse. Using the example of tennis, the stress to the forearm muscles of hitting hundreds (if not thousands) of balls leads to small micro-trauma of the muscle attachment point. This causes tiny micro-tears which do not get a chance to properly heal before they are stressed again – a typical repetitive strain injury.
Symptoms of this condition include pain over the outer or inner elbow, point tenderness over the bone in that area, weakness or soreness of the muscles with use, morning stiffness and in some cases pain or tingling spreading down the arm towards the wrist. A good examination must be done to differentiate this problem from a nerve or joint irritation in the neck that is referring pain to the elbow.
In my office, I tend to see more of these conditions arising from computer and mouse use as opposed to the traditional sports-related causes. In these cases, I find it is imperative to assess and treat the neck and shoulder as well as the elbow and wrist. Treatment will often involve chiropractic adjustments to the neck, mid-back, shoulder, elbow and wrist. Other good options include soft tissue therapy, kinesiotaping and low intensity laser therapy. I am not a huge fan of splints as they are often over-used and will further weaken the muscles you are trying to rehabilitate. However, there are certain cases where they are helpful.
Because the offending activity that caused the problem cannot always be stopped (i.e. computer work), a good stretching and strengthening plan is essential. Below you will find some videos of basic forearm stretching, as well as a good mobilization for tennis elbow. The key with any repetitive strain injury is to be able to stretch and relax the muscles on a regular basis. I recommend stretching out the forearms once every 20 minutes when on the computer. It takes less than a minute and can spare you from months of recovery if you let the problem get too big.