The term “tennis elbow” is a common phrase that is used to refer to each of two different conditions of the tendons of the elbow, tendonitis and tendinosis. True tennis elbow is a form of tendonitis, tendonitis of the tendons that attach the muscles of the forearm to the elbow. Tendonitis can afflict tendons anywhere in the body.
Tendons are cord-like parts of the body that consist of strong, flexible tissues. They are somewhat like rope and connect our muscles to bones. Thus, tendons make it possible for us to move our limbs. They also help prevent muscle injury because they absorb some of the impact on the body when a person runs or jumps.
Despite its name, tennis elbow does not afflict only tennis players. People whose jobs feature the types of repetitive motion that can lead to tennis elbow include plumbers, painters, carpenters and butchers.
Playing tennis is one cause of the condition. Reportedly repeated use of the backhand stroke makes a person especially vulnerable to tennis elbow. However, people in the occupations mentioned above also make the same or other common arm motions can cause tennis elbow, including:
- Repeated use of plumbing tools;
- Driving screws;
- Butchering meat and possibly working in a slaughterhouse;
- Overuse of a computer mouse.
The risk of developing tennis elbow is increased by the following factors:
- Age. Tennis elbow can affect people of any age, but it is most common in adults between the ages of 30 and 50;
- Occupation. As mentioned previously, people who have jobs that involve repetitive motions of the wrist, elbow and arm are more likely to develop tennis elbow. Examples of workers who may suffer from tennis elbow are plumbers, painters, carpenters, butchers and cooks;
- Certain Sports. Not only tennis but other racket sports, such as squash, also increase a person’s risk of tennis elbow, especially if the person uses poor stroke technique. In this case, perhaps a better coach would address a person’s problem.
Tennis elbow is an injury caused by overuse of the joint in repetitive motion and muscle strain. It is caused by repeated contraction of the forearm muscles that a person uses to straighten, twist and raise their hand and wrist.
The pain of tennis elbow is mainly experienced in the place where the tendons of the forearm muscles attach to the outside of the elbow. Pain can also spread into a person’s forearm and wrist. Rest and over-the-counter pain medication, e.g. Ibuprofen or aspirin, often help relieve tennis elbow. If conservative treatments do not help, or if symptoms are disabling, a doctor might suggest surgery.
The pain and weakness caused by tennis elbow may make it difficult to:
- Shake hands or grip an object;
- Turn a doorknob;
- Hold a coffee cup;
In severe cases of tendonitis, a person’s tendon can rupture and this would complicate their medical situation greatly.
It is possible, however, that a person with tennis elbow experiences only mild pain that can be treated with over-the-counter pain medication and rest. A person is generally advised to talk to their doctor if self-care steps such as rest, ice and use of pain medication do not alleviate their symptoms.
Another condition that is referred to as “tennis elbow” is tendinosis. This condition is different from tendonitis. Tendinosis is a chronic degeneration of the tendons in the elbow joint. With tendinosis, a person experiences tenderness of the tendons that attach to the small bony part on the outside of their elbow. There may be some swelling but generally very little.
Tendinosis of the tendons in the elbow is usually caused by the overuse of the tendons located in the forearm that help to extend the wrist and fingers. The wear and tear on these tendons is a result of small tears in the tissue that do not heal properly. The inability of the tendon to heal properly causes the tendons to become weak. Eventually, the tissues become thin, and eventually wear out.
This condition is not really tennis elbow and requires different treatments. That is why it is important for a person to consult a knowledgeable doctor and get the proper diagnosis and treatment.
What Is Tennis Elbow Treatment?
The treatment of tennis elbow depends on the seriousness of the condition. If the condition is serious and conservative treatment of rest and pain relievers do not address the problem, then the following are possible treatments:
- Physical therapy with routine stretching and exercise to strengthen the weakened arm;
- Prescription pain medication;
- Placing the joint in a bandage, splint, or brace to prevent movement.
Rest and a period of not doing the repetitive motion that causes the condition may also be indicated.
Common Tennis Elbow Treatment Disputes
One of the main disputes that can arise from the treatment of tennis elbow is medical malpractice. Medical malpractice is a form of negligence. A doctor owes their patient treatment that is the same as that which a reasonably competent provider with the same level of training would provide under the circumstances.
If a doctor’s actions are reasonable and based on what a similarly-trained professional would have done, then the doctor cannot be considered negligent. However, if a doctor’s care falls below this standard, the doctor can be liable for malpractice.
A claim for malpractice might be based on the following:
- Misdiagnosis of the condition;
- Error in prescribing medication, either as to type or amount, or medical devices;
- Faulty surgery, especially surgery involving tendons or nerves;
- Failure to prescribe the correct treatment for the condition.
The remedy in a lawsuit for medical malpractice is an award of compensatory damages. Compensatory damages should compensate the patient for the full extent of their losses. These would include the costs of medical care and lost wages. If a person has not been restored to full health by the time of trial, damages would include an amount for future care.
If a person loses not only wages but their earning capacity, then they would receive compensation for lost earning capacity. A person could also expect to recover a sum to compensate them for their pain and suffering.
Other issues that might arise would be insurance disputes because a person’s health insurance provider might deny coverage for their claim for some reason. If an insurance company denies coverage for a reason that is not legitimate according to the terms of the policy, a person may have a claim for insurance bad faith, which is basically the wrongful denial of insurance coverage.
An insurance company might try to argue that a person’s claim for their tennis elbow treatment is fraudulent and deny it on that basis. Of course, the company would have to prove that the claim was fraudulent, either because the patient did not in fact suffer from tennis elbow or inflated the seriousness of the condition.
Another possible issue arises if a person’s tennis elbow was caused by the conditions of their employment. It is possible that a person’s responsibilities involve repetitive motions that can lead to tennis elbow. In this case, the person would seek compensation for their economic losses, e.g., the costs of medical treatment and lost wages, through their employer’s workers’ compensation insurance.
Finally, if a person’s employment has caused their tennis elbow, or tendonitis in another joint, a person may become unable to perform the duties of their job and may need rest to recuperate fully. In this case they may need to turn to their own or an employer’s private disability insurance or their state’s disability insurance program.
Only 5 states, California, Rhode Island, Hawaii, New York, and New Jersey, have mandatory disability insurance laws which require an employer to carry disability insurance. In California, the benefits of this program equal 55% of the worker’s pay, up to a certain maximum amount.
If an employer in California, Hawaii, New York, Rhode Island, or New Jersey does not have this disability insurance for their employees as required by state law, they may face a lawsuit.
If the employer does have disability coverage, an employee may be able to take advantage of it. If not, they may have to file a lawsuit against their employer. Recovery under these state systems does not require that the injury occurred on the job.
Another option, if the condition is severe enough and lasts long enough, is to apply for federal Social Security (SSA) disability. Unfortunately tendonitis is not a listed impairment in the SSA disability system. However, a person may be able to qualify their tendonitis as a major dysfunction of the joint.
This would require proving that the condition has affected the joints, i.e., a person’s wrist or elbow, to the extent that person is unable to perform gross and fine motor movements. It can be challenging to succeed with a claim for long-term disability filed with the SSA system, and an initial claim may well be denied. A person may have to appeal in order to succeed with a claim for SSA disability.
Should I Contact a Lawyer?
Disputes over personal injuries can be challenging. You should consult a workers’ compensation lawyer if your tennis elbow was caused by repetitive motion in connection with your employment.
If you have experienced a long-term disability and are unable to work, you want to turn to a Social Security disability lawyer. You should definitely not assume that you can handle a claim of this type on your own. It is more challenging than you might think and you would be wise to have an experienced attorney represent you.
States have different kinds of disability insurance programs. Whether your inability to work because of tendonitis was caused by your employment or not, you want to consult a disability insurance lawyer if the tennis elbow makes it difficult or impossible for you to work in your occupation. Your lawyer can tell you whether a state disability system in your state or private insurance coverage may provide you with the help you need.
If you believe that your doctor has not treated your tennis elbow properly or has treated it negligently and made it worse, you should consult a personal injury attorney. Your attorney can review the facts of your case and tell you whether you have a claim for malpractice against your doctor. Your attorney will be able to enlist the help of other medical experts who would be needed to support your case.