Lateral elbow tendinopathy, or ‘Tennis Elbow’, is the diagnosis prescribed to individuals experiencing persistent pain on the lateral aspect of the elbow radiating through the forearm. The pain can be acute or chronic depending on the longevity of the symptoms which are typically accompanied by loss of function or difficulty with everyday activities involving use of the arm. The cause of Tennis Elbow is more commonly down to a mechanical loading issue where the tendons of the forearm are overloaded due to repetitive stress resulting in pain in the forearm, this can happen during an increase in physical activities in a short period of time.
Since the problem itself is considered a load related issue that negatively impacts function and well-being, load is considered the poison and the antidote. Initially, reducing or modifying any activities or aggravating factors that are causing symptoms is important to reduce the irritability of the tendon. Although this is where the common mistake is made, as most people tend to completely stop and avoid any and all activities until the symptoms resolve, then when they return to those activities and the pain often returns. The take home message here is that it typically does not improve with rest alone. The reason why this happens in the first place is because the tendon cannot tolerate the amount of load being applied to it through the activity you are trying to do, so resting it will not increase the tendons capacity to tolerate that stress. Improving a tendons capacity to tolerate load, comes by gradually exposing it and progressively loading it over time through specific exercises.
The prognosis for Tennis Elbow can be a positive one but there are a lot of factors that would need to be considered in determining the potential timeline for full recovery, as with the majority of tendon pathologies being long term, typically a minimum of 8-12 weeks should be considered as the standard. As is often the case some people will recover inside that time frame and others can take significantly longer depending on other factors, such as longevity of symptoms, age, previous injury history, activities of daily living. This being said often patients who present to clinic usually have been experiencing the symptoms for long periods of time thus prolonging the recovery process due to poor management of the problem. If you are experiencing symptoms that coincide with the above, it is best to visit a qualified Physiotherapist who can prescribe a progressive treatment programme to aid you in returning to full function.