If you think tennis elbow only affects athletes, guess again: Anyone can develop this painful condition. In fact, as many as 3% of Americans wind up with tennis elbow every year.
Also called epicondylitis, tennis elbow happens when tendons in the joint are overworked and strained, typically from repetitive use. Swinging a tennis racket is one common cause (hence the name). But, other activities, such as painting, carpentry, and even repetitive use of a computer mouse can lead to tendon overuse and inflammation.
As a top-rated sports medicine specialist in Vestavia Hills, Alabama, Thomas Powell, MD, helps patients at Powell Orthopedics and Sports Medicine find relief for tennis elbow. But, like all skilled doctors, Dr. Powell knows preventing epicondylitis is even better. Below, he offers six tips to reduce your risks of developing painful tennis elbow.
1. Warm up properly
If you’ve ever played in a sport — even in school — you’ve undoubtedly heard this advice: Always warm up before practice or play. There’s a good reason for that. Warming up literally warms your muscles, so they’re more supple and flexible.
Warming up can decrease your risk for injury, and it may even help you perform better. That’s helpful whether you’re playing a sport or doing any repetitive activity.
2. Strengthen your forearm
When your arm is weak, the strain on your tendons is increased and sometimes “uneven.” That means inflammation is more likely, along with the pain it causes.
When you strengthen your forearm muscles, you provide extra support to your elbow joint when you’re doing all sorts of stressful activities. Extra support means reduced risk of strain and discomfort. Just remember to start any strength-building program slowly — and warm up first.
3. Tweak your technique
No matter what you use your elbow for — tennis, painting, or some other repetitive task — optimizing the way you move your arm and hold objects can make a big difference in the health and function of your elbow.
Optimizing the way you use your arm — even using a brace or taping for added support — reduces strain that can lead to inflammation. Adding in cross-training with exercises and activities to offset that strain can also help.
4. Take breaks
Most of us set goals when we set out to do an activity, whether it’s learning a new sports technique or finishing up a project at home or work. Pushing toward the finish line often becomes a goal of its own.
However, no matter how tempting it may be to keep going, it’s critical to take breaks. Taking frequent breaks can help you avoid overtaxing your body.
5. Listen to your body
Your body has a built-in system for helping you recognize when it’s time to stop doing something and get some rest. It’s called pain. And while we’ve all heard about “playing through the pain,” this approach is wrong.
If you start to notice elbow pain — even mild twinges — that’s your body’s way of telling you to slow down and give your elbow a break. In addition to resting the joint, you can apply ice in 20-minute intervals a few times a day or take some over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medicines.
6. Make an appointment
It’s really important to schedule an office visit at the first sign of elbow pain, especially if your routine involves a lot of repetitive activity. Dr. Powell offers elbow treatments tailored to each person’s symptoms and activities for optimal relief. Plus, he can recommend additional ways to prevent chronic elbow pain, such as physical therapy or corticosteroid injections, to relieve discomfort and inflammation.
Don’t let elbow pain keep you from enjoying your life. Our team can help. To learn more about elbow pain treatments — and how to prevent pain from recurring — call 205-606-5232 or book an appointment online with Powell Orthopedics and Sports Medicine today.