The cause of epicondylitis is an inflammation of the muscular insertions on the epicondyle of the elbow; its an array of tendonitis. Lateral epicondylitis, also called “tennis elbow” is the term used when the muscle inserts on the side of the elbow are inflamed.

Medial epicondylitis or “golf elbow” refers to inflammation of the muscle inserts on the inside of the elbow. In both types of epicondylitis pain can occur at the muscle insertion into the bone of the elbow or may radiate into the muscles of the forearm and occasionally to the wrist.

Epicondylitis is usually related to overuse or direct trauma to the area. The pain is more intense after an intense or repetitive use of the limb. Activities involving strong grip or forearm rotation are particularly aggravating.

How to relief the pain

Tennis elbow relief can be accomplished, on the most extreme or chronic cases, by surgery, but for the rest of us non invasive procedures are enough to get rid of the pain. The non-surgical treatment has three main components: protection, inflammation reduction and strengthening the muscles and tendons.

Decreasing the time or intensity of activity

Other methods of protection are the use of an elastic elbow brace, strap, band or wrap and occasionally, support with plaster or magnetic immobilization. A stretching program can be useful to reduce muscle tension on the tendon affection. Stretching includes the affected arm as well as the neck, upper back and shoulder, hand, wrist, forearm and triceps.

How to reduce the inflammation caused by tennis elbow

The second component of non-surgical treatment aims to reduce inflammation of the tendon. This can be done with ice, various forms of physiotherapy (such as ultrasound or iontophoresis), anti-inflammatory medication and infiltration with corticosteroids (a class of steroid hormones).

You can apply these simple treatments at home:

Apply ice after exercise/work periods to reduce inflammation and get temporary pain relief. To apply the ice wrap the elbow and forearm with a damp cloth and place a bag of crushed ice on it. Keep the ice on it for 15-20 minutes.

Friction massage and ice: It can be used to reduce inflammation and promote healing of the inflamed tendons. Ice causes the constriction of the surface vessels; the friction dilates them. To give yourself an ice massage, fill a plastic cup with water and put it in the freezer; cut the top half of the plastic cup and gently massage the painful area with ice for five minutes.

For the friction massage, use the tips of the thumb or index fingers to rub on the painful area. Start with light pressure and gradually increase it until you apply firm pressure; continue the massage for 3-5 minutes. Alternate ice and massage, always ending with the ice application so that the affected area doesn’t remain inflamed. Repeat 2 or 3 times a day.

When to start doing exercises for tennis elbow

The third component of the non-surgical treatment consists of stretching and strengthening exercises of the muscles and tendons that were affected; usually this is done after the above steps to decrease the pain. In some cases, when the pain does not improve with other methods, a strengthening program will lead to the complete resolution of symptoms.

Start with the exercises once you have remained pain free for several days. The stretching and strengthening exercises are necessary for a proper rehabilitation. Stretching the muscles of the forearm flexors and extensors as described in the exercises section will help prevent muscle imbalance.