As I blogged in March, pain in the outside of the elbow is usually caused by straining the tendons that attach to the bone there. The medical name for it is lateral epicondylitis, though it’s more commonly known as tennis elbow.
If you’re a tennis player, then click here for tips on modifying your equipment and technique to minimise your risk of tennis elbow. However, most sufferers of tennis elbow don’t actually play tennis! So what should you do if you’re a non-tennis-playing victim?
Well, in my experience, most cases of tennis elbow, or RSI, come from having a tight upper back, neck and shoulders. It’s a classic chain reaction:
- When your upper back and ribcage are tight and stiff, it’s harder for your shoulder blade to glide normally over the ribcage – so the muscles that attach to the shoulder blade have to work harder to overcome the resistance of the ribcage.
- When muscles have to work harder, they often get tighter.
- The muscles that attach to the shoulder blade also attach to the ball-and-socket shoulder joint, so a tight shoulder blade will often lead to a tight and jammed shoulder joint that doesn’t move as well as it should.
- When the shoulder joint doesn’t move well, it places more pressure on the muscles around the elbow, which in turn become tight and strained, resulting in tennis elbow.
And what causes tension in the upper back and ribcage? You might say it’s 21st century life – because while it could easily be due to the repetitive strain of hitting tennis balls, for most of us it’s simply a case of dodgy posture caused by long hours sitting in front of the computer or the TV.
What to do about it? Well, you could wait until your shoulder or elbow gets really sore before coming in to see a physiotherapist. But prevention is always better (and quicker!) than cure, and the good news is that tension in the upper back, neck and shoulders is something that a good massage therapist can work on, thereby helping you to avoid getting tennis elbow (and a host of other injuries) in the first place!