As Tennis Elbow Plagues Players, Treatment and Prevention Prevails

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As Tennis Elbow Plagues Players, Treatment and Prevention Prevails
Leading sports medicine expert on smart advice for a nagging injury

NY, NY and Greenwich, CT, January 2007 — With active indoor tennis programs to extend the season, players are now on court year-round, which can lead to wear and tear of the joints and muscles and a rise in overuse injuries. The most common upper extremity complaint among recreational players is tennis elbow, accounting for 75% to 85% of elbow injuries, according to the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine. Tennis elbow can affect as many as half of athletes in racquet sports with the majority of sufferers between the ages of 30 and 50, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.

“Tennis elbow, technically known as lateral epicondylitis, is an inflammation of the tendon that attaches to the ulna, one of the three bones that make up the elbow joint,” explains Kevin Plancher M.D., a leading NY-area orthopedist and founder of the Orthopedic Foundation for Active Lifestyles (www.ofals.org) – a non-profit organization dedicated to advancements in research and education for orthopedics and sports medicine. Dr. Plancher notes that even people who don’t play tennis can get tennis elbow, particularly those who use their forearm repetitively, such as golfers, and even those working on computers or with tools. Dr. Plancher advises that tennis elbow should not be overlooked just because it’s so common. If there is regular pain, it is important to see a doctor to start treatment before the situation gets worse.

The main symptom of tennis elbow is pain along the outside of the elbow that is intensified by gripping a tennis racquet or a cup of water or lifting a simple object. A doctor can diagnose tennis elbow upon examination. X-rays or MRIs are usually not useful unless symptoms have been long lasting. The most effective treatment for 95 percent of the cases is non- operative, according to Dr. Plancher, and involves Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation (RICE). “Non-steroidal antiinflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and corticosteroid injections are sometimes prescribed as well, ” he added. Once a patient is pain free, Dr. Plancher recommends a course of physical therapy to stretch and strengthen the arm muscles prior to resuming activities.

For severe cases where tennis elbow does not respond to the conventional treatments, there is a safe, minimally-invasive arthroscopic surgical procedure to repair the tendon. “We are now able to surgically repair or release the injured tendons using two pinholes, just three millimeters each, which means a much quicker surgical recovery than would be necessary with an open procedure,” said Dr. Plancher. The procedure can be performed in one day and it can result in a longer-term solution that helps patients regain range of motion quickly, according to Dr. Plancher. For the prevention of tennis elbow, Dr. Plancher recommends the following tips for tennis players:

  1. A proper warm up. Always warm up prior to playing, especially if the indoor facility is cold.
  2. Proper technique. Work with a pro if necessary to ensure proper mechanics and stroke execution. Tennis elbow can result from hitting the ball late or incorrectly.
  3. Stretch. Always stretch after playing. Tight muscles are more likely to become injured than flexible ones.
  4. Avoid overuse. Consider playing every other day rather than on consecutive days to give the arm a rest. Choose a sport that uses different muscles on the alternate days.
  5. Pay attention to pain. Use caution and stop playing. Ice the area. See a doctor and take the necessary steps to recovery.

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