Although epicondylitis is popularly known as tennis elbow, this condition is not exclusive to athletes. It’s associated with them because using a racketcan 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, like almost all “-itis” conditions, 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.
Which muscles can we single out in terms of their level of involvement?
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 telltale sign that you may have tennis elbow is pain on the outside of your elbow. 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.
How is epicondylitis treated?
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 see 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.
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 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.
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.If you found this article about epicondylitis interesting, keep in touch with us and subscribe to our blog to continue receiving up-to-date information.