The majority of the muscles that extend down your wrist are attached to the lateral epicondyle, a bony bump on the outside of your elbow. Sometimes, either by injury or overuse, the site where these muscles insert can start to become either irritated or inflamed. This condition is known as lateral epicondylitis or "tennis elbow"- although the majority of those affected do not have to play tennis.
The most common cause of this condition is repetitive wrist extension during an activity. Tennis, carpentry, bricklaying, knitting, playing piano, typing, and lifting objects with your palm facing down are all examples of this. The condition is much more likely to strike your dominant arm.
The pain will typically begin as an intermittent or gradual discomfort during activity and then it progresses so that even simple activities, like holding a coffee cup, can become painful. Pain may in some cases increase when you straighten your arm, grip a doorknob or shake hands. The pain can also vary from mild to severe and commonly radiates into the forearm, sometimes to the wrist.
Without treatment, "tennis elbow" can last up to a year, with 80% of patients still reporting pain after that time. In most cases, modifying or eliminating the activities that cause these symptoms is the first step in a successful treatment plan. At night, do your best to avoid sleeping with your elbow compressed beneath your pillow. Also, you should try to avoid lifting heavy objects with your palm facing down. Tennis or racquetball players may need to consider changing to a lighter racket or try a smaller handle.
If the situation calls for it we may prescribe a "counterforce brace" for your elbow. This brace will act as a temporary new attachment site for your muscles and will help to reduce the stress that is being placed on your elbow. We may prescribe some sports creams and home ice massage as well. Always remember to be Be patient with your recovery!