The elbow joint is made up of several components, including cartilage, ligaments, bone, and fluid. The muscles and tendons within it help the joint move back and forth. If any of the structures within the joint suffer damage of any type, that can create pain and mobility concerns. There are many things that can use an elbow injury. The most common is a condition called tendinitis. It is a type of inflammation that occurs in the tendons that attach the muscle itself to the bones.
Other types of injuries can occur as well. This includes sprains and strains, fractures of the bones in the area, arthritis, and dislocation. Tendinitis of the elbow is often a sports injury. It may come from playing golf or tennis, for example, in which the elbow has suffered damage often from overuse.
Muscle Tendon Injuries
For those who play tennis, especially elite tennis players who spend a lot of time using their elbows, muscle tendon injuries are the most common concern. These are overuse injuries. The most common concerns are brought on by factors such as:
- Overuse of the wrist extensors or supinator
- Excessive load of the elbow
- The size of the racquet handle itself
- The weight of the racquet
- Leading elbow, a common type of poor technique
- Contact with the lower half of the strings on a racket
- String tension may be a factor in some recreational players
One of the potential reasons for this leading to injury has to do with the amount of shock that is transferred. Lateral elbow tendinopathy (LET) is brought on when a player is engaging in this type of activity in a repeated fashion. They may have the most pain and damage during the ball impact and then later in the early follow through. Another reason why it is believed that shock causes this concern is what happens in double handled backhand players. These individuals rarely develop this type of damage as the nondominant hand typically absorbs more of that energy, reducing the amount of shock that transfers.
Determining if LET is Occurring
To determine the proper treatment for any condition related to the elbow, it is important to understand the overall symptoms. In most LET cases, there is pain located over the lateral elbow. That pain typically will radiate into the person’s forearm. The pain is brought on by resistance as a result of loading the wrist extensors. In some people, it is evident in the reduction of grip strength on the racket.
Creating the Best Type of Treatment
Treatment for LET and other types of elbow injury must be specific to the situation. However, there are a lot of factors that must be taken into consideration to not only heal the condition but also prevent it from reoccurring.
Dr. Brian Cable MD provides some insight into this. He states, “It is critical to correct the underlying cause of the problem. That is, correcting any technique concerns should be a big part of the process. At that point, it becomes necessary to rehab the tendon. That can be most effectively done, in most cases, using mobilization and heavy load-based exercises. “
There are other treatment options out there, but it is not always beneficial to use corticosteroid injections. In some situations, these may only provide a short-term solution of pain relief. On the other hand, they may not improve the overall healing process or reduce the risk for long term complications. That is why they may not be the best first step.
If other treatment options and rehabilitation do not help within six months, it is likely the individual may need surgical procedures to help with alleviating the pain and restoring proper motion. However, it will be necessary to consider the long-term outcomes of these cases.
Considering Other Types of Elbow Injuries
There are a multitude of ways that a person can injure their elbow. Tendonitis, as described above, is just one and perhaps the most common in tennis and golf players. Here is a look at some of the others.
Dislocation: It is possible to dislocate the elbow. That means it becomes separated from the normal position. This is common when a person lands on an outstretched hand when trying to prevent a fall. It may also occur in athletes who are struggling with overuse risk.
Bursitis: This condition occurs when the olecranon bursa is inflamed or irritated. This is the bony tip of the elbow. In some cases, it can fill with fluid that causes swelling. This often occurs as a result of sudden trauma.
Elbow strains and sprains: It is common for athletes to have strains and sprains due to the abnormal stretching and tearing of ligaments in this area. This can be due to overuse or traumatic injuries.
Individuals struggling with this type of pain may benefit from treatment that includes rehabilitation at its heart. This may include the use of numerous types of therapy to help improve the function and pain that a person with these conditions typically faces as a result of an accident or overuse.