How do I Diagnose Tennis Elbow?
When you are experiencing elbow pain, the best way to diagnose this condition is with a quick visit to the your doctor for a physical examination of your elbow. Getting a proper diagnosis is important so you can treat your condition correctly.
Untreated chronic elbow pain can cause bone spurs and/or the break down tendon tissue in your elbow, becoming even more painful than before. Keep in mind, however, your symptoms may be caused by a similar condition to tennis elbow having similar symptoms in the elbow, forearm, wrist, or hand.
Understanding your medical history and individual lifestyle will help your physician provide the best diagnosis possible. To begin with, your doctor will gather a medical history about you and your current condition and symptoms. The diagnosis will be based on:
- The severity and duration of your injury
- Your level and type of pain (does it hurt during or after activity or do you experience pain all the time? Do you experience pain while flexing your fingers, turning your wrist, or only when extending your forearm?)
- How your symptoms are affecting your lifestyle (Are your symptoms mildly aggravating or causing you to limit or stop normal, daily activity?)
- Your general health and well-being
- Your age and current level of physical ability
- Your participation in activity
Your physician will discuss what factors led to your injury. This can include investigating the techniques, equipment, and training used in your activity, sport, or occupation. The duration of your injury will determine whether you are suffering from acute (short term) or chronic (long term) Tennis Elbow. Some treatments are only suitable for short term symptoms while others are used to effectively heal chronic injuries.
All of these things will indicate to your physician, the severity of your injury. This will help them determine which type of conservative treatment will provide the most effective healing. Depending on the duration and severity of your injury, you may even require surgery. It is important to speak to your physician as soon as possible to limit potential damage to your elbow and start the healing process.
Your physician will conduct a physical exam to determine if you are suffering from tennis elbow or a related condition. During your physical exam, your doctor will visually assess your elbow by asking you to extend and flex your elbow, wrist, and fingers. During these exercises, your doctor will place pressure on certain areas of your arm. Your physical exam will help your physician asses your range of motion, muscle and grip strength, joint stability, and pain. Pain or discomfort communicates to your doctor that the muscles, tendons, joints, or tissues may not be healthy. A physical examination of your arm will alert your physician to any physical abnormalities. This could include inflammation, swelling, bone deformity, or atrophied muscle.
Typically, your medical history and physical exam will give your physician enough information to make a diagnosis. If your doctor believes that your symptoms are due to something other than Tennis Elbow, further testing will need to be done to determine the correct diagnosis.
It is rare that more complex diagnostic techniques will be used to diagnose Tennis Elbow, but they can be effective in helping determine the cause of your symptoms. An X-Ray, which uses short electromagnetic radiation waves to create an image, can help your doctor get a detailed picture of your bone structure. This can help determine if a fracture or arthritis are the cause of your symptoms.
Your body is a complex system; everything is interconnected. Because of this, problems in your neck, shoulder, or arm could cause symptoms similar to Tennis Elbow. An MRI or Magnetic Resonance Imaging sends out a strong magnetic field and radio waves over your body. This creates an image of your bones and soft tissues. An MRI can help doctors see if there is an issue in another part of your body.
An EMG or Electromyography test uses small wires placed in your muscles to detect any changes in nerve signals during movement. When assessing your elbow, this test is helpful in determining if your symptoms are being caused by a pinched nerve.
Your physician will check for inflammatory conditions such as bursitis, which affects liquid filled capsules in the joint or osteochondritis which affects the cartilage or bone of a joint.
Struggling To Rid Yourself of Tennis Elbow?
The good news is that most cases of tennis elbow will heal with simple home conservative treatments and surgery is often not needed! It's generally understood by doctors and surgeons, that surgery will introduce more scar tissue into the elbow. This added scar tissue will be problematic, requiring visits to the Physio clinic and conservative treatment options post-surgery. This is why surgery is only performed as a last resort for chronic elbow injuries or a fractured bone that won't heal with conservative treatment methods.
To look into conservative treatment options for soft tissue injuries in the elbow and forearm, please go to our tennis elbow treatments page.
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During your recovery, you will probably have to modify and/or eliminate any activities that cause pain or discomfort at the location of your soft tissue injury until the pain and inflammation settle. Always consult your doctor and/or Physical Therapist before using any of our outstanding products, to make sure they are right for you and your condition. The more diligent you are with your treatment and rehabilitation, the faster you will see successful results!