A non-discriminating condition
By Eamonn McColl
Rod Laver Arena and Melbourne Park are about to become the centre of the world for two weeks, which is reason enough to discuss the injury named after the sport that’ll be happening there.
Tennis elbow is a broad term for lateral elbow pain, and is certainly not restricted to tennis players. It can occur in golfers, rowers, crossfit enthusiasts, people that type a lot, people that garden a lot, people that carry babies a lot, and people with generally poor upper body posture. Typically it refers to tendon injury of the wrist extensor muscles near their attachment at the elbow. Pain can come on gradually over months, or due to a single bout of unaccustomed activity or other acutely painful event to the area, such as a direct blow.
The causes of tennis elbow are wide-ranging and virtually always multi-factorial. Dysfunction in the neck has been shown to contribute significantly to elbow symptoms, as has muscle imbalance around the shoulder girdle. Tightness in the flexor compartment (the underside of the forearm to the involved extensor muscles) may cause nerve conduction of the lateral elbow region to be hindered, also contributing to the tendon pain. Activity overload (i.e. – too much too soon) and sub-optimal technique are almost always factors that need to be addressed too.
It is important to have a comprehensive biomechanical assessment from a trained physiotherapist to identify and correct the contributing factors to your pain. Even niggling but mild pain should be assessed; typically the longer that tendon injuries are left untreated, the longer the rehabilitation process to fix it. Longstanding pain will often require extensive layoff from activity as an unfortunate adjunct to a physiotherapy rehab program.
If you’re a tennis player or golfer, lessons from a qualified coach are a must-have accessory too. The reason you won’t see anybody at Melbourne Park in January walking around with bulky elbow braces is because none of them are catching their forehands late or trying to pound down serves without proper leg drive.