We all know about Sachin Tendulkar’s struggle and how he almost lost his career over his tennis elbow injury. He has mentioned not even being able to hold his son’s plastic bat at the time and he took over four months to recover. If you play tennis, engage in sports or are involved in any physical activity, outdoors or indoors, that places stress on your arm, this is something you need to watch out for.
About 50% of recreational tennis players get affected with an elbow condition called as tennis elbow and though people aged 35 and above are more prone to getting affected by this condition, if you’re someone who plays tennis more than thrice a week, it’s time you took some necessary precautions.
So what exactly is a Tennis Elbow?
When the tendon attached to the outside part of the elbow is inflamed, the condition is called as a tennis elbow. The tissues of this tendon may also be torn in some cases.
A variation of this condition is the golfers elbow wherein the inside part of the elbow is inflamed instead.
While age and frequency of play are common reasons for a tennis elbow, it could also be caused by improper technique. Holding the racquet too loosely, repeatedly playing similar shots, lack of flexibility during the play, less arm strength, there may be many reasons for a tennis elbow. But if ignored, this condition could lead to tendonosis in which case, surgery may be recommended as anti-inflammatory medication stops working at this stage. This is because the inflammatory cells cease to exist at the area by this time.
It starts with a very sharp pain on the outer, bony part of the elbow. The pain increases as you touch the area, when you lift objects or just shake your arm. Grip strength is lost to a lot of extent and some players find that the forearm area is also in pain.
The immediate treatment intuitively would be to apply an icepack on the area, this may be repeated several times in the day to relieve pain. An elbow brace or bandage may be used to protect the area from further stress or pressure. It goes without saying that you need to give your arm a rest and this means keeping away from the racquet for atleast a week. It is strongly advised not to return to your sport or activity until the elbow is completely recovered because if the area is not fully healed, it may end up getting worse as more stress is put on it. You could consume a painkiller if the pain is on the higher side but if the elbow still doesn’t appear to heal within a few days or if the pain is beyond tolerance level, it is recommended that you see a doctor as soon as possible.
It is also recommended that you practise the below mentioned exercises to build up strength and flexibility, so that you can return to the game with ease:
Hold your injured arm straight out, palm facing upward.With your other hand, press down the back of the injured harm’s hand so that your fingers point downwards, as shown in the figure below.Feel the stretch on the top of your forearm taking care to see that you don’t stretch it till it pains.
Use a massage stick to massage over the muscles on the top of your forearm and give your arm lots of rest. Don’t try to lift heavy objects.
There are many ways to prevent a tennis elbow, all of them require forming new habits of play and pre-play exercise.
- Finding the right coach – one who will help you practise the right technique is key.
- It is important to hold the racquet lightly and use one with a soft grip so that the palm and fingers feel cushioned.
- A racquet that has strings strung with a lower tension and one with a flexible shaft must be used.
- Just before play, one must perform the Wrist Flexion and Extension exercises mentioned above apart from Wrist Rolls and Squeeze-Release
- Bend your elbow and make a fist at your side.
- Make five small circles with your fist, clockwise and anticlockwise each.
- Straighten out your arm so that your elbow is straight and repeat step 2.
- Hold a tennis ball in your arm.
- Squeeze and release it a few times in a day, for about 2 to 3 minutes.