Tennis Elbow- Not Only For Those That Play Tennis

By Occupational Therapist, Becky Fenn, OTR/L, CLT

My elbow hurts!

Tennis elbow?

I don’t think so– I don’t play tennis! And I don’t golf!

Tennis elbow is most common among adults between the ages of 35 and 55. Despite its name, you don’t need to be playing tennis (or even be athletic) to get tennis elbow.

What is tennis elbow?

Lateral or medical epicondylitis (aka Tennis Elbow) is inflammation and tears of the extensor tendons of the forearm, which causes elbow pain that can also spread to the forearm. Pain in your elbow can occur from an injury/accident, repetitive motions, improper lifting, overuse of the arm, or stress or strain from a sports injury. What types of repetitive motions can cause tennis elbow? Activities such as swinging a tennis racquet, pitching a baseball, painting a ceiling, and hammering in cabinets. Repetitive motions that are done at work can also cause tennis elbow (scanning, lifting, carrying).

Treatment options

As an Occupational Therapist I see and treat tennis elbow. Many people don’t remember when the pain started or why it hurts. This can be frustrating. It can cause anxiety. And it can prevent you from doing activities that you enjoy. Some people are hesitant to be seen by a doctor or occupational therapist. They don’t like to go to the doctor. They might think since they don’t know of a specific injury, they can’t be helped. Seeing an occupational therapist can help you figure out what caused the pain and how to treat it so you can get back to living an active, pain-free life.

Your treatment plan will be specific to your symptoms. The goal is to improve your ability to do the things you need and want to do on a daily basis. This includes chores, taking care of yourself, your job, shopping, eating, etc.

You may benefit from splinting, which gives the body part rest. Manual therapy may be recommended because it strengthens the areas that are causing pain. Your therapist will teach you how to adjust your daily activities so they don’t cause pain. This could include holding your blow dryer, driving your car, shoveling snow, and playing with your children.

Exercises and stretches at home will be a part of your treatment plan as well. We may also recommend ice and heat, rest, splinting for the elbow or wrist, and as mentioned above, adjusting your activities to minimize pain.

What about my job?

We will go over what your job entails and see if any adjustments can be made to help minimize the pain. Think about the factory worker who lifts, twists, turns, and reaches overhead all day. All their work tasks are repetitive and may be production based. Another example is someone who holds a scanner in their right hand and must scan all items that come from the left. The left hand must lift each item, light and heavy, push the button on the scanner, turn to the right, and place the item on the table. Image doing this all day, standing, and reaching in various positions.

We will look at those motions and recommend changes to what you do and how do you it. Proper body mechanics, or doing things in a way that doesn’t put unnecessary stress on your body, is an important part of therapy.

Some questions we look at in regards to your work environment and duties include:

  • Can your work station be set up differently?
  • Can you sit sometimes during the day?
  • How often are you taking rest breaks?
  • What kind of shoes are you wearing?
  • Can you adjust the height of the table or work station?
  • Can you hold the scanner differently or use a different one? A lighter one?
  • Can you change job duties throughout your day, so it’s not as repetitive?

Please contact the Orthopedic Institute if these symptoms seem familiar or you think you have tennis elbow. If you have had the pain for a short time or a long time, we will help you to return to the everyday activities that are important to you.

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