It seems that all sports like to claim Lateral Epicondylitis as their own specific sport injury…better known in the world of Surfing as “Surfer’s Elbow.” However, you may have heard this more commonly referred to as “Tennis Elbow.”
So what is Lateral Epicondylitis (Surfer’s Elbow) and how can we prevent, cure or just plain fix it?
Surfer’s Elbow is an overuse injury involving the extensor muscles that originate on the Lateral Epicondylar region of the Distal Humerus (Funny bone). It is more properly termed a tendinosis that specifically involves the origin of the Extensor Carpi Radialis Brevis muscle. Basically speaking, it is an overuse or inflammation injury.
Whilst this injury plagues many sports people, about 40-50% of the surfing fraternity will suffer this type of aliment during their surfing years. It predominately inflicts overzealous, mad surfers whom stay in the water for literally hours at a time.
This aliment also affects tennis players and golf players. It is in fact a common problem. The injury involves inflammation of the Radial Humeral Bursa, Synovium, Periosteum and the ligament (connective tissue). There may also be some tearing of tissue. However, this would be rare in relation to those involved in surfing.
If you have this injury you would present with lateral elbow and forearm pain exacerbated by paddling. The pain will also extend down the forearm and often occurs in recreational surfers between the ages of 30-50 years young. Other symptoms may include pain about 1-2 cm down from the bony area at the outside of the elbow. Reduced strength in the wrist, (when trying to open the flip top of a beer after that long surf in the sun!) pains on the elbow itself and your fingers feeling stiff when you try and open your hand.
A test that will confirm whether you have Surfer’s Elbow is the chair raise test. Stand behind a chair and attempt to raise it by putting your hands on the top of the chair back and then lifting it. If pain results over the lateral elbow, chances are that you have Surfers Elbow.
About 95% of patients with Surfers Elbow will respond to conservative treatments and will not require any surgical procedures. Surfers whose condition is unresponsive after 6 months of therapy (including steroid injections) may need to seek a surgeon’s opinion.
Management and Treatment
When the injury occurs, apply ice or cold-therapy to the pain region (the elbow) for 15 minutes at a time. Repeat this 7 to 8 times a day. This will help to reduce the pain and any inflammation that may be present.
Rest is also extremely important in the healing process. Rest is not something surfers like to do, however no rest will increase the problem and it will be present for a much longer period of time.
You can also wear a support-brace to protect the tendon whilst healing and strengthening it, particularly when you return to surfing. These can be purchased from your local chemist shop or Sports Physiotherapist, whom can also advise on the best treatment for you. The brace should not be put on the painful area but placed approximately 10cm down the forearm. As with all soft-tissue injuries a comprehensive rehabilitation program should be carried out by your favourite Exercise Scientist or Physio.
By: John Hart