At Long Island Spine Rehabilitation Medicine where our experienced doctors have an excellent record of relieving the debilitating pain and immobility of joint damage, we treat a great many patients who are coping with elbow pain. The vast majority of these patients, almost all of whom benefit greatly from our elbow injury treatments, are dealing with one of two common conditions: tennis elbow or golfer’s elbow.
This doesn’t mean that the bulk of our patients are athletes, but simply that these problems are been named for sports that often cause them. When you come to one of our five convenient Long Island offices, you will find that our doctors are physiatrists, doctors who specialize in pain management and rehabilitation through safe, noninvasive methods. We focus on effective, progressive, rehabilitative care, not surgical intervention.
Tennis Elbow Pain
Tennis elbow, medically known as lateral epicondylitis, is an inflammation of the tendons of the forearm that attach to the outer surface of the elbow. The elbow is a complex joint involving three bones: the humerus (the upper arm bone that attaches on its other end to the shoulder socket) and the radius and ulna (the two bones of the lower arm that attach on their other ends to the wrist). The tendons, which attach muscles of the arm to these bones are frequently injured due to repetitive overuse.
Causes of Tennis Elbow Pain
Although tennis elbow can be the result of repetitive sports injuries suffered during tennis and other recreational sports, the condition also occurs as a result of vigorous use of the forearm during a variety of household and occupational activities, such as cooking, painting, carpentry, plumbing, auto repair, and butchering. Because the causes of tennis elbow are repetitive in nature, patients cannot usually point to a specific injury as causative; the condition typically develops gradually.
Symptoms of Tennis Elbow
Pain, sometimes described as “burning,” on the outside of the elbow joint, and a weakened grip on the affected side, are the primary signs of tennis elbow. Pain worsens with any forearm movement, such as grasping, shaking hands, or turning a jar lid or wrench. In most cases, tennis elbow happens to people between the ages of 30 and 50 and affects the elbow of the patient’s dominant arm.
Diagnosis of Tennis Elbow
At Long Island Spine, we take the diagnosis seriously because proper diagnosis determines appropriate elbow injury therapy. Our diagnostic methods include:
- Medical history
- Thorough physical exam
- Ultrasound guidance to directly assess the area and extent of tendon damage
- X-rays of the arm bones to rule out other causes of pain, like arthritis or fracture
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan to confirm tendon damage or show other soft tissue damage, such as a herniated disc
- Electromyography (EMG) to rule out nerve compression
If you have a history of rheumatoid arthritis or neurological disease, it is important that you notify us as soon as you become our patient, since other underlying disease conditions may be responsible for your elbow pain or arm weakness.
Treatment of Tennis Elbow
For up to 95 percent of our patients, our noninvasive tennis elbow injury treatments are successful. These methods include:
- Rest, activity modification, wearing an elbow brace, applications of ice packs
- NSAIDS, like aspirin or ibuprofen to reduce pain and swelling
- Elbow injury physical therapy designed to stabilize and strengthen the elbow joint
- Ultrasound-guided injections of corticosteroid and analgesics to reduce inflammation and decrease pain
- Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP) injections found to be beneficial in promoting rapid healing in subacute or chronic cases of tennis elbow
- Elbow injury physical therapy
Elbow injury physical therapy typically includes ice application, ultrasound therapy, wrist-strengthening exercises, electric stimulation of muscles, and/or extracorporeal shock wave therapy.
Golfer’s Elbow Pain
Like tennis elbow, golfer’s elbow (medically called medial epicondylitis), needn’t result from the sport after which it is named. The major difference between the two injuries is that golfer’s elbow affects the tendons on the inside of the elbow, rather than on the outside as in tennis elbow.
Causes of Golfer’s Elbow Pain
Repetitive use of the wrist or clenching of the fingers may lead to golfer’s elbow as can some of the same motions that result in tennis elbow. In addition to golf and tennis (especially backhand strokes), other activities that may result in golfer’s elbow include:
- Sports that involve pitching or throwing (e.g. baseball, javelin throwing, football)
- Occupations that require forceful repetitive arm movements like construction, plumbing, carpentry, painting, butchering, computer work, working on an assembly line
You are more likely to develop golfer’s elbow if you are 40 or older, obese, or a smoker, and if you perform repetitive activities like the ones described for more than two hours a day.
Symptoms of Golfer’s Elbow
The initial pain of golfer’s elbow typically is felt where the tendons of the forearm attach to the bony bump on the inside of your elbow. The pain may also spread along the inner side of your elbow, down along your forearm to your wrist. Patients with golfer’s elbow also experience:
- Pain that worsens with certain movements, like making a fist or swinging a golf club
- Weakness in the hands and wrists
- Numbness or tingling that may radiate down into the ring finger or pinkie.
Diagnosis and Treatment of Golfer’s Elbow
The diagnosis and treatment options for patients with golfer’s elbow are much the same as those for tennis elbow (see above). With either condition, there is a small chance that surgery may be required if more conservative treatments are not effective after 6 to 12 months.
In such situations, our well-connected practitioners will refer you to colleagues whose talents lie in performing surgical procedures. Depending on your particular circumstances, the chosen surgeon may recommend open or arthroscopic surgery. Both operations are usually outpatient procedures. If you do need surgery, we will be here to help you with elbow injury physical therapy and other elbow injury treatment during your recovery.
Get Back into the Game by Contacting Long Island Spine Now
“Your game” may be a sport like tennis or golf, or may involve working hard at your occupation, doing household chores, repairing your car or taking care of your children. Regardless, if you are suffering elbow pain and restricted movement, the capable doctors at Long Island Spine can help you heal as rapidly as possible. The sooner you contact us, the sooner we can help you recover.