Rehabilitation for Lateral Epicondylitis

Lateral epicondylitis, also known as tennis elbow, is an elbow injury that occurs as a result of the overuse of the muscles and tendons of the forearm and elbow. The pain associated with this condition affects the lateral epicondyle, the area where the tendons of the forearm connect with the bony outer portion of the elbow. Repetitive movement and constant use during certain types of activities may put excessive strain on the elbow tendons. Tennis elbow may occur in tennis players or individuals who participate in certain athletic activities, but may also occur in people who have jobs that involve repetitive motions of the wrist and arm, such as carpenters, or people in construction related trades.

The initial pain caused by tennis elbow can often be managed with rest, ice and over-the-counter pain medication. In many cases, tennis elbow heals on its own. Conditions that do not respond to conservative measures may require additional treatment, in the form of physical therapy, exercises, orthotics, or corticosteroids. Severe, persistent cases of tennis elbow may require surgery.

Nonsurgical Rehabilitation for Lateral Epicondylitis

Patients with mild cases of lateral epicondylitis may benefit from physical therapy to minimize pain and restore movement. Initial physical therapy treatments control pain and promote healing by using ice or electrical stimulation. Massage may also be used to ease muscle pain. A physical therapist will guide the patient in exercises to gradually stretch and strengthen the muscles of the forearm. Recommendations may also be made to help alleviate the stress to the injured muscles and avoid re-injury. With physical therapy treatment, recovery may take about 3 months, however, with more severe cases of tennis elbow, recovery may take up to 6 months.

Rehabilitation After Surgery

Severe cases of lateral epicondylitis that do not respond to other treatments may require surgery to alleviate pain and restore movement to the elbow. Surgical procedures may be used to remove damaged tissue, remove bone spurs or to split the tendons to alleviate pressure. After surgery the elbow is placed in a splint and initial physical therapy treatments may include ice, electrical stimulation and massage, to help control pain, swelling and muscle spasms. About 2 or 3 weeks after surgery, a physical therapist will prescribe exercises that work and stretch the muscles of the forearm without straining the healing tissues. Additional physical therapy treatments may include:

  • Muscle strengthening exercises
  • Range of motion exercises
  • Exercises for fine motor skills
  • Hand dexterity exercises

Physical therapy treatments focus on helping the patient return to all usual activities. After surgery, physical therapy may be necessary for up to 4 months and full recovery may take up to 6 months.

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