Epicondylitis, more commonly known as tennis elbow, often affects players of tennis and other racket sports(even golf). However, anyone who repeatedly makes the same motion with their arms all day can develop it. Tennis is just the perfect example because of the repetitive, forceful swinging you do that puts pressure on the elbow. Those sorts of motions seriously work your forearms, potentially causing tears in the tendons that connect those muscles to the bony outer edge of your elbow, or lateral epicondyle, causing elbow pain. So for the layman, epicondylitis roughly translates to a boo-boo on your elbow. Don’t confuse it with tendinitis or carpal tunnel. As with pretty much all overuse injuries, treatment consists largely of resting the affected area and patience. If possible, you should try and modify your activities to avoid the problematic movement, but we all know that life doesn’t always let you make such accommodations. At the very least, physical therapy should be integrated in your care plan to get your musculature back up to par.
- Ages between thirty and fifty.
- Repetitive wrist and arm motions for two or more hours per day.
- Poor tennis or other racket sport form.
Best Treatments for Tennis Elbow
Do your best to avoid tennis elbow. Interestingly, over three years at the French Open, only one case of epicondylitis was reported out of 700+ professional players. So what does that tell you? It’s not what you do, but how you do it. Have good form, good gear, and keep your muscles and bones strong and healthy; they’ll be much better prepared for the stress you throw their way. If your job is physically demanding, you really want to make sure you’re working in an ergonomically sound environment to minimize chances for injury.
Identify the cause of your tennis elbow. You can’t fix your behavior to reduce your symptoms if you don’t know where they’re coming from. Obviously harsh, forceful arm movements, like in tennis, can irritate your elbow, but constant twisting of your wrist does it, too. So people who work with their hands, like butchers, carpenters, and plumbers, are all at risk. Even a job requiring the constant use of a computer can be a contributing factor to tennis elbow, particularly in your mouse hand. After identifying the troublesome motion, make sure you’re performing it in such a way that reduces stress on your arm.
Home remedies may not fix the problem, but they can reduce pain and symptoms. My usual go-to advice for any injury: R.I.C.E. Rest, ice, compression, elevation. Do it. It’ll help reduce inflammation and pain. They’re pretty self-explanatory, just be careful with your icing. You go overboard with it and you might damage your nerves. Ice for around twenty minutes at a time a few times a day and be sure to wrap your ice in a washcloth or something before slapping it on your arm. Over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory meds (like Aleve, which Amazon sells) will relieve some pain for you, too.
Physical therapy will get your muscles back in shape after your injury. A certified physical therapist can teach you exercises to strengthen your injured muscle groups and show you the proper form for whatever activity caused your tennis elbow, reducing your chances for re-injury. Your doctor can set you up with formal physical therapy, and you should definitely take his or her advice over mine, but I’ve listed some exercises that may be helpful in the sidebar. Different tendons are affected depending on the injury, so there may be some trial and error in finding exercises that work for you.
When in doubt and in pain, head to your doctor. For most cases, all you really need is patience and maybe some of the above tennis elbow treatments, but persistent cases should be checked out by a medical professional. Doctors can provide that PT prescription, the right kind of brace to support your arm, and cortisone injections, and they’ll just generally give you the best advice for your specific injury. If you go through all of these treatments without much improvement, surgical repair of your messed-up tissue might be recommended. Getting professional advice will help a lot.
- Forearm extensor stretch: Extend your arm out in front of you, palm down, and use your other hand to gently push the back of the extended hand back toward you while keeping your arm at the same level. Hold for thirty seconds and repeat three times.
- Wrist lift: Grab a can of soup or a one-pound weight and sit down at a table. Hold your chosen weighted object and place your forearm on the table, palm down, then lift the object by only raising your hand and wrist, keep your arm stationary. Hold a couple seconds and repeat fifteen times. Can also be done with palm facing up.
- Ball squeeze: With your arm bent and palm up, hold a small rubber ball in your hand, and squeeze it for ten minutes or until fatigued. Repeat three times a day. Don’t have a rubber ball? You can get a set of three from Amazon.
About Tennis Elbow
Formal treatment by a doctor or physical therapist may not be necessary for some cases of tennis elbow, but that’s only if your symptoms are mild and you’re sure you have tennis elbow, not something more serious. Symptoms include elbow pain that gets worse as you continue to use the arm, forearm and/or wrist pain, and loss of grasp strength. Tendinitis is a similar injury to tennis elbow, the main difference being the level of inflammation in the tendons, and it will respond to similar treatment. You can try home treatment for mild tendinitis as well, but if you suspect any kind of a break anywhere in your arm, or even an all-out tear of something, you should definitely go in and get some imaging done. Don’t mess around with bony injuries; the sooner they get treatment, the better. Knowing when to go in isn’t always easy, and if you’re not sure, it’s best to just bite the bullet and head in.