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Preventing and Treating Painful “Tennis Elbow”

By: Dr. Christopher L. Dillingham, M.D.

If you play tennis regularly, you may have suffered from a painful condition called “tennis elbow.” Although the problem appears to be with your elbow, it is actually by an inflammation of the tendon that connects your elbow with your wrist. Therefore, “tennis elbow” can be a problem for people who never pick up a tennis racket or swing a golf club out on the course.

Any type of repetitive motion that involves the hands and wrists can put a strain on the tendon or other arm muscles. Typing at the keyboard all day, holding a big mug of coffee or lifting a gallon of milk can put uncomfortable pressure on those wrist muscles. It is much better to keep your hands and wrists at a comfortable position over a keyboard using a support pad, and be sure to place your palms to the sky when lifting a heavy object. Both of those techniques can help protect the tendon from the repetitive stress that can lead to inflammation.

If you play tennis at any level – from a friendly neighborhood game to the upcoming ATP Sarasota Open – you should talk to a coach about holding the racket correctly and using proper techniques when serving or returning your opponent’s shot.

An incorrect backhand stroke is one of the most common causes of tennis elbow, since it involves “snapping” one or both wrists on the return. Holding the racket too tightly or extending the wrist while serving can also lead to inflammation.

If the elbow becomes inflamed, you may want to take a short break from playing tennis to give the tendon time to recover. Taking antiinflammatories or a shot of cortisone can also help to reduce the pain.

After the inflammation recedes, try wearing a brace on your wrist – not your elbow – and see if that is helpful in calming the tendons. Changing your technique, such as switching from one- to a two-handed backhand (or vice versa) may also help to reduce the ongoing stress on the muscles.

If none of these strategies work, then you may want to consider a new surgical option called the Tenex FAST (Focused Aspiration of Soft Tissue) procedure. Based on technology developed in collaboration with the Mayo Clinic, this minimally invasive procedure uses ultrasound energy to break up the tendon’s scar tissue and help restore the natural muscle function. This innovative outpatient procedure can also be used to address problems in the shoulder, legs and feet, such as pain in the rotator cuff, Achilles tendon or a plantar fascia condition.

Because a Tenex FAST procedure only involves the insertion of a small needle with an ultrasound generator into the muscle area, it takes about 20 to 30 minutes and can be done with a local anesthetic. Recovery times are much more rapid than with other types of surgery.

If you suffer from tennis elbow, try resting those muscles. If the pain returns, there are effective ways to treat this condition. Don’t let tennis elbow keep you from enjoying your favorite sport!

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