At the elbow, common sites for tendon pain are near the bony parts on the inside and outside part of the elbow. In the healthcare setting, we call these types of tendon pain, “medial epicondylalgia” and lateral “epicondylalgia.” In layman’s terms, these types of conditions are referred to “tennis elbow” and “golfers elbow.” However, they can occur in the context of type of repetitive activity (e.g. weightlifting, typing, manual labor, etc.). Tendon pain of the elbow may involve irritation and/or inflammation of the either the wrist flexor or the extensor tendons.
These conditions usually develop over time. Contributing factors include stiffness of the wrists joints and muscles, compensation for weak shoulder girdle musculature, or repetitive activity. It is a common condition that affects athletes and desk jockeys alike. Some movements that can be especially painful include squeezing and holding objects, lifting, carrying, and typing.
In our physical therapy office, the first recommendation that we usually make is to take a short break from the aggravating activity. This allows for an environment for the irritation to settle down and the tendon to heal. While taking a break usually helps with pain, we know for our patients to get back to the activities that they enjoy, we have to address the root of the issue.
In many cases tendinitis of the elbow is associated with stiffness of the wrists. This can be combined with weakness of the rotator cuff and the lat muscles. Some evidence even shows that there is a cervical spine (neck) component to these type of issues. In addition, there may be lifestyle factors that need to be addressed. Is the workstation set up for proper ergonomics? We also need to be mindful that how an athlete performs a movement or exercise can affect elbow health. Suboptimal technique and faulty movement patterns can predispose an athlete place excessive strain on the elbow tendons and cause pain. However, the only way to know what is contributing to pain and injury is to perform a complete assessment and observe how the someone moves.
When pain and stiffness is found via the assessment, our approach includes manual mobilization to alleviate pain and improve mobility. We have found that dry needling can work wonders for elbow pain. Performing hands on therapy to the neck has also show to have positive results. Improvements can be made very quickly if the right regions are targeted. If weakness is found, we teach activation exercises to help our clients better engage muscles that are not firing well. Once pain is controlled and muscles engage better, our next step is teaching our patients to develop stability of the wrist and shoulder girdle with load.
When addressed with a thorough physical therapy assessment and plan of care, elbow tendonitis can resolve relatively quickly. However, any sort of repetitive activity with poor mechanics can become a more serious issue. If you feel like you may be developing and elbow problem, the physical therapists at Movement Solutions would be glad to provide a thorough assessment and give you a diagnosis for your condition. We are available for a free 15-minute phone consultation to talk about how your elbow is affecting you and discuss your treatment options. Call us at (864-558-7346 and ask how we can help.