How to treat a Tennis Elbow?

Tennis Elbow

Tennis Elbow (medically known as Lateral Epicondylitis) is triggered by repetitive or excessive extension of the wrist, resulting in pain that occurs on the outer side of the elbow, usually on the dominant arm.  Any activity or hobby that involves movement by gripping anything too tightly like a tennis racquet, bat, hammer, paintbrush, or performing activities like fishing, canoeing, gardening, playing video games, knitting and even typing.

Tennis ElbowPeople suffering from tennis elbow complain about pain on the outer side of the elbow extending to the forearm. The pain comes on gradually and worsens in time, especially when using the wrist to grasp or squeezing any object or shaking hands.  The outer part of the elbow is tender and sensitive to touch and the person normally experiences stiffness or aching of the elbow in the mornings.

There is no bruising or signs that will be seen just by looking at the arm.  Tennis Elbow is diagnosed by a doctor by observing your arm, wrist and elbow and by using your description of the pain you are experiencing.  An MRI will give you a definitive answer.

Anyone suffering from Tennis Elbow knows that the pain experienced can be excruciating and debilitating.   While this can be a painful injury to have, it can be treated quite effectively. However, if the problem is not addressed, the pain can remain for years.

Here are some ways you can treat your tennis elbow:

  1. Know the root cause: By determining the root cause of the pain, you will be able to improve your form and technique while conducting your daily activities, sport and hobbies.
  2. The RICE Method: This method is used to treat several injuries:
    • Rest: Healing the arm can take place effectively when repetitive movement is avoided or minimized. 
    • Ice: In the initial stages of tennis elbow, applying an ice pack at the pain point for around 15 mins will ease the pain and reduce inflammation.  Repeat every 2 to 3 hours.
    • Compression: The use of a compression brace or sleeve is a great pain management tool and can reduce the pain immediately.   The tennis elbow brace redirects the stress away from the pain point, thus reducing pain while providing protection to the area.  A brace can be worn for all activities throughout the day.
    • Elevation: Elevating the elbow above heart level is a good way to minimize the swelling and pain at the elbow.  Doing this while it is iced or compressed can help too.
  3. Massage: Performing simple self-massage techniques by applying firm pressure over the area of your arm where it is sore can be helpful in reducing the pain you feel.
  4. Stretching Exercise: One of the main reasons for tennis elbow is not stretching your arm. During the early phases of tennis elbow, simple stretches can loosen up your forearms and improve flexibility and decreasing any stiffness you may be experiencing.
  5. Diet: A clean diet with the necessary vitamins and minerals will alleviate pain caused from excess inflammation.
  6. Physiotherapy: If your tennis elbow symptoms are particularly severe or persistent, your GP may refer you to a physiotherapist who will show you exercises to help stretch and strengthen your forearm muscles. They may also recommend that you wear a splint and may use massage, ultrasound therapy or red light therapy to promote healing.
  7. Medications: Anti-inflammatory painkillers are available as creams, gels and tablets.  Corticosteroid injections may be recommended if you have particularly painful tennis elbow that is making movement difficult.  Before you decide to have corticosteroid injections or any other medications to treat tennis elbow, discuss the effectiveness and potential side effects with your GP to make a well-informed decision.
  8. Alternative Therapies: Sometimes specialists might use shock wave therapy, magnetic therapy, acupressure or acupuncture with reasonable success in minimizing the pain over a short period.
  9. Surgery: Surgery to remove the damaged part of the tendon may be recommended as a last resort treatment option in rare cases of severe or persistent tennis elbow.

By following the doctor’s advice, tennis elbow can take from 4 months to 2 years to heal.   Take necessary prevention measures to protect yourself from tennis elbow starting with using proper form.  Be particularly cautious if you have the risk factors such as doing activities that require repetitive use of your elbow.  Once you have healed your tennis elbow, you will want to take it easy to begin with and keep your elbows healthy.

Resources:

Physioworks – Tennis Elbow

Expert Health Reviews – Cure Tennis Elbow