Lateral epicondylitis, also called tennis elbow, is a very painful and debilitating condition occurring in people with upper extremities work load.
Although easily diagnosed, the symptoms can last for months or even years with possibility of long lasting work incapacity leading to disputes at the workplace. The treatment is empiric and not always successful. Sadly, the incidence of recurrence of this pathology is very high. So what can be done when a client suffers from the condition and needs to return to the workplace?
According to an article written by occupational health (OH) specialists published in Personnel Today a few years back (http://www.personneltoday.com/hr/understanding-the-effects-of-tennis-elbow/) tennis elbow is the second most common musculoskeletal disorder of the upper extremities occurring in both sexes, primarily affecting the dominant arm. As described in the pathology featured in today’s newsletter, tennis is not the only cause. In fact, manual tasks requiring muscle strength and movement repetition represent an increased risk to develop the condition.
The article brings the example of a 40-year-old woman who has been suffering from tennis elbow. Following a period of rest and improvements she wishes to return to work. The OH specialists comprehensively explain the mechanisms leading to the disease (tendon pathology) and the sensation of pain. Changes in the pain system generate a neural loop that begins from the region affected by inflammation, the tendon, and the transmission of neural impulses to the brain via the spinal cord. Finally, they add that prolonged symptoms of tennis elbow can cause muscle fibre necrosis, modification in muscular function, ultimately altering the muscles involved when performing gripping tasks. They also conclude how relevant psychosocial factors are in exacerbating pain especially when pain is protracted.
The strategies implemented by OH specialists for the client to return to computer work consist in reducing those movements that caused the development of tennis elbow with the aim of preventing recidivism. Other tactics include replacing the use of a mouse with keyboard shortcuts or the substitution of the common desk mouse with a vertical mouse. In addition, they proposed a gradual return to work beginning with a few hours per day, job rotations and a professional advice from an OH specialist. These were the recommendations to avoid those movements causing the overuse of the extensor tendons attached to the lateral epicondyle, facilitating the worker’s return to work and most of all her wellbeing.