How to treat epicondylitis or tennis elbow?

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Epicondylitis

Although epicondylitis is popularly known as tennis elbow, this condition is not exclusive to athletes. It’s associated with them because using a racket can put stress on the wrist and forearm, but this can also happen in everyday situations, for example, when picking up shopping bags.

Today, we are going to show you how to identify it, what the most common symptoms of epicondylitis are and how to treat it. Take note:

What is epicondylitis?

Epicondylitis or tennis elbow reflects an inflammation. On this occasion, it is inflammation of the tendons that join the muscles of the hand and forearm to the epicondyle, the bone on the outside of the elbow. This muscular structure is responsible for controlling the main movements of the hand.

Because of its technical name, you might have thought that it is the bone that’s inflamed, i.e. the epicondyle, but this is not the case. The name is taken from the muscles themselves, as those that are found in this bony bump are called epicondylar muscles. Thus, inflammation occurs in the tendon area that is attached to this region.

Repeated use of the forearm muscles leads to overexertion, damaging the connective tissue and creating micro-tears. These are the micro-injuries to the tendon that cause inflammation.

What are the muscles that we can highlight due to their level of involvement in epicondylitis or tennis elbow?

Basically, there are five of them: the first and second external radial, the posterior ulnar, the supinator and the common extensor of the fingers.

As we have already mentioned, this injury does not only come about from practicing sports. There are some professions in which repetitive movements of exact gestures are made – these can contribute to its onset. So, physical laborers, mechanics, painters, bakers and professionals who spend all day in front of a computer having to use a mouse can suffer from it; but sports activities are the principal cause of epicondylitis. Some of the best known are tennis or squash, due to the backhand and serve motions which call for flex-extensions.

What are the common causes?

The mechanism that can trigger this injury consists of differentiated risks theoretically, but that cross over with one another:

  • Overuse: The repetitive and persistent use of the muscles that make up the forearm causes, as it would do in any other area, an inflammation of the tendon fibers of the muscle structures.
  • Misuse of muscles: These injuries are often caused when engaging the muscles and exerting a lot of force on the forearm. They are anatomical segments that are designed to function with very specific movements and ranges. However, when these motions are exceeded, the soft tissue encounters certain functional problems. This can lead to degeneration and small tears, or micro-tears, in the tendon fibers.

Therefore, it’s not only playing a sport like tennis that can cause you to suffer from epicondylitis. Any type of movement where your wrist has a forced posture can lead to tennis elbow. Everyday actions such as using a screwdriver, a hammer or wringing out a mop can cause this injury.

What are the symptoms of epicondylitis?

The evidence that tells you that you may have tennis elbow or epicondylitis is external elbow pain. You may notice it when you hold or pick up objects, if someone squeezes you where the tendons attach, and when you shake hands with another person. But the pain also occurs when lifting objects or rotating the elbow, for example, when filling a glass while holding a jug.

In addition to these general symptoms, you may notice a lack of strength in your forearm. When you touch the area, you’ll feel a stabbing pain on the outer side of the elbow. Specifically, in the soft area surrounding the bony lump. This discomfort usually subsides during the night. However, during the day you may feel a constant dull ache. Although it is not a neurological pain, it can radiate to the forearm and wrist because the nerves pass through this muscular area.

As with any type of tendonitis, if you exert counter resistance the pain will increase. In other words, if you extend your wrist against an opposing force, you will feel more pain.

epicondylitis or tennis elbow

How to cure epicondylitis treatments

Who has not ever searched for “epicondylitis treatment” to try to obtain information on how to cure tennis elbow or simply to know how to act against this condition.

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (ibuprofen, naproxen or aspirin are the most common) can be used to treat this injury. These will reduce inflammation and pain, although it’s advisable not to overuse them. You can also use a natural anti-inflammatory cream made from rosemary, devil’s claw and arnica.

However, if the pain continues, you will need to stop the activity that is causing the pain and visit a physiotherapist who can help you with electro-stimulation, bandages and other techniques.

Splints can also be used in all treatments with tendon, bone or joint problems, although they have not been shown to aid recovery. On the other hand, elbow straps can work. The band is placed about an inch below the elbow.

Cold treatments

To reduce pain and inflammation in an acute condition, in other words, a condition that’s severe but of short duration, your best ally is cold. For this reason, it is one of the quick-fix treatments for tennis elbow for immediately when you start to notice symptoms (within 48 hours). Apply ice or cold compresses for 15-20 minutes after stretching at the end of your sports or professional activity. This will help relieve severe pain and reduce inflammation.

You can apply it several times a day. But remember to always place a cloth between your skin and the ice to prevent it from sticking to your skin.

Heat treatment

Heat treatment is applied after at least 48 hours have passed since you first felt the pain. Both dry and moist heat are your best friends when the pain is long term. You can do this with a hot-cold pack or hot water baths. Do this several times a day for about 15 minutes.

Electrostimulation treatment for epicondylitis

In addition to all the treatments mentioned, it’s also necessary to talk about the relationship between epicondylitis and electrostimulation. Among the benefits of EMS or, rather, electrotherapy, it’s important to point out that it can be used for treating the symptoms of pain.

How to use electro stimulation to treat epicondylitis?

First of all, what you should know is that you need to use TENS electrostimulation, not EMS. Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation acts as an electroacupuncture device with which pain can be effectively treated.

These devices work by means of electrodes that send an electrical charge to the area they are placed upon. There, they produce a series of tingles that stimulate the sensory fibers and generate electrical impulses that cause pain relief in a natural way. This type of treatment will prevent you from having to resort to oral or topical drug treatments.

For these reasons, and to put it more technically, we can say that TENS electro-stimulation will produce local analgesia.

“Electro-stimulation is a perfect treatment to wave goodbye to pain and potential relapses”.

When the pain is lower and the area has recovered, it is advisable to follow a plan to help regenerate the area and stimulate blood circulation. Do it for at least 15 days, keeping in mind that it doesn’t have to hurt, it should be more like a kind of massage.

Once you’ve recovered from your injury, you can switch to a strength-based program and do this for 10 minutes a couple of times a week. You can continue like this for about a month. Like this, you’ll see how this area can regain good muscle tone and injuries are not as frequent as before.

Electrostimulation is the perfect treatment to say goodbye to pain and possible relapses. Used in the right way, you can treat different types of injuries and gain muscle tone.

The ideal for people who frequently suffer from epicondylitis or tennis elbow and want to cure epicondylitis without rest, is to resort to good prevention before the appearance of symptoms.

Epicondylitis

Is epicondylitis preventable?

The truth is that almost any type of injury can be prevented if you use the correct technique. The problem arises when an athlete or any other professional susceptible to tennis elbow acquires a bad habit.

If you are a tennis player or regularly practice this sport, you should make sure that the grip and weight of your equipment are suitable for your physical characteristics. In addition, it is very important to warm up and stretch after physical activity.

For other professionals (gardeners, carpenters, mechanics, musicians…) the best form of prevention is to work on postural hygiene. Learning to perform your everyday movements with good technique will prevent your tendons from being put under excessive strain. In the same way, resting these muscle groups after activity will also prevent this condition from appearing. Preventive massage and stretching are highly recommended. Wearing an elbow strap for this type of pain is also a good idea when you can’t rest.

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Frequently asked questions about epicondylitis

How many days does epicondylitis last?

Epicondylitis, also known as “tennis elbow,” is an injury to the tendon that connects the muscles of the forearm to the bone on the outside of the elbow. The duration of epicondylitis can vary considerably from person to person and depends on several factors, such as the severity of the injury and the treatment received. Typically, epicondylitis can last from a few weeks to several months or even longer if not treated properly.

Treatment may include rest, physical therapy, strengthening exercises, icing, use of orthotics or splints, anti-inflammatory medications, and in severe cases, corticosteroid injections. Additionally, it is important to modify the activities that caused the injury to allow for recovery. Complete recovery can take time and effort, and it is important to follow the recommendations of a health professional to speed up the healing process and avoid recurrences.

What makes epicondylitis worse?

Epicondylitis, commonly known as “tennis elbow,” can worsen due to a number of factors and activities that place additional stress on the affected tendons. Some of the factors that can make epicondylitis worse include:

  • Repetitive Activities: Performing activities that involve repetitive gripping, twisting, or bending movements of the forearm and wrist can aggravate epicondylitis. This includes sports such as tennis and racquetball, as well as intense manual tasks.
  • Overuse of the arm: Continuing to use the affected arm without adequate rest can prolong recovery and worsen the injury.
  • Lifting heavy objects: Lifting heavy objects or performing activities that require significant force on the forearm and wrist can increase stress on the tendons and aggravate epicondylitis.
  • Poor lifting or gripping techniques: Using improper techniques when lifting objects or performing hand and wrist movements can increase the load on the tendons and cause the injury to worsen.
  • Not following proper treatment: Not receiving treatment or not following a doctor’s or physical therapist’s recommendations, such as rest, strengthening exercises, and physical therapy, can cause epicondylitis to worsen over time.
  • Ergonomic factors: The work environment or daily activities that involve uncomfortable positions or poor posture can contribute to worsening epicondylitis.
  • Emotional stress: Stress and anxiety can increase muscle tension throughout the body, including the forearm muscles, which could worsen epicondylitis symptoms.
  • Ignoring pain: Continuing with normal activities despite pain can exacerbate the injury, as damaged tendons need time to heal.

It is important to identify and avoid these activities and factors that can worsen epicondylitis, as it will help in the recovery process and prevent possible relapses. If you are experiencing symptoms of epicondylitis, it is advisable to seek the guidance of a healthcare professional for a proper diagnosis and personalized treatment plan.

How to sleep if I have epicondylitis?

Sleeping with epicondylitis (tennis elbow) can be uncomfortable due to pain and tenderness in the elbow and forearm. Here are some suggestions to improve sleeping comfort if you have epicondylitis:

  • Proper position: Try to find a sleeping position that minimizes pressure on the affected elbow. Some people find it helpful to sleep on the side opposite the affected elbow, with the affected arm resting on a pillow or cushion to keep it elevated.
  • Proper pillow: Use a comfortable, supportive pillow for your head and neck. This can help you maintain a more comfortable posture and reduce pressure on the affected elbow.
  • Avoid resting your elbow: Try to avoid resting your elbow directly on the resting surface. You can use an extra pillow or pad to protect your elbow.
  • Splint or support: In some cases, an elbow support or splint may be helpful to keep the joint in a neutral position at night and reduce stress on the affected tendons.
  • Medication: If your doctor has prescribed anti-inflammatory or pain-relieving medications, take them as directed before bed to relieve pain and inflammation.
  • Ice before bed: Applying ice to the affected area for about 15-20 minutes before bed can help reduce inflammation and pain, making it easier to fall asleep.
  • Gentle exercises and stretches: Do gentle exercises and stretches before bed to relax your forearm muscles. Make sure you do it under the supervision of a physical therapist or following your doctor’s recommendations.
  • Maintain a regular sleep routine: Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day to establish a regular sleep pattern that promotes recovery.
  • Consult a specialist: If pain persists and significantly affects your ability to sleep, consider seeing a doctor or physical therapist for specific guidance and treatment options.

Remember that everyone is different, and what works for one person may not be equally effective for another. It is important to find the position and strategies that best suit your particular situation and speak with a healthcare professional to get personalized advice and treatment for your epicondylitis.

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