9 Best Tennis Elbow Treatment Options
Tennis elbow is a frustrating condition that is believed to affect roughly one in three people at any time.
It is often characterised by a nagging pain on the outside of the elbow that can restrict normal movement patterns and interfere with everyday activities.
In this article we’ll take a close look at what tennis elbow actually is, and how you can go about treating it.
What is Tennis Elbow?
Also known as lateral epicondylitis, tennis elbow occurs when the muscles and tendons surrounding the elbow joint become damaged.
Common symptoms (outlined by Web MD) include:
- Pain slowly increasing around the outside of the elbow. Less often, pain may develop suddenly.
- Pain is worse when shaking hands or squeezing objects.
- Pain is made worse by stabilising or moving the wrist with force. Examples include lifting, using tools, opening jars, or even handling simple utensils such as a toothbrush or knife and fork.
And despite the name, you don’t have to be a tennis player to be impacted by tennis elbow.
Any task that requires the same repetitive motion (such as gripping or twisting the arm) to be performed over and over again can cause it to flare up. This can occur in gardening, bricklaying, plumbing – even working at a computer for prolonged time periods.
Tennis elbow can also occur if the muscles surrounding the joint are not firing correctly, or if you’re utilising the incorrect technique for your chosen task.
Preventing Tennis Elbow
Bupa Healthcare outline some great precautionary steps you can take to minimise your risk of developing tennis elbow in the first place:
- Think about the repetitive actions you do and try to avoid or change them.
- Take breaks during or between tasks that involve using your arms.
- If you’re lifting, carry the weight close to your body and keep your palms facing upwards.
- If you play a sport, make sure you’re using the right technique. You may want to get a coach to help you with this.
- Make sure any equipment you use is adjusted correctly, for example make sure your racquet isn’t too tightly strung.
Tennis Elbow Treatment Options
Despite your best efforts, you may just get unlucky and develop a case of tennis elbow. Here are some of the most commonly used and most effective treatment options if tennis elbow does flare up.
In the acute stage of injury, one of the best ways to speed your healing and prevent further damage is to rest your elbow joint.
If you did in fact injure the elbow playing tennis, it’s going to need a break from the repetitive motion of the tennis shot in order for the healing process to begin.
The same goes for any other activity that you feel may aggravate the condition. If possible, avoid that activity as best you can until the pain subsides.
2. Ice the area
Icing a sore joint is one of the best ways to reduce inflammation and swelling, and may also speed up the healing process.
The guys over at Breaking Muscle have some great pointers with regards to the frequency of icing for optimum results:
“For acute lateral epicondylitis (tennis elbow) or medial epicondylitis (golfer’s elbow), I recommend icing with an ice cup 7-9 minutes at a time, multiple times a day, with an hour between icings”.
3. Provide support
If the injury is particularly painful, you may need to support the joint using a brace or elasticated support.
This will restrict the overall movement of the joint and prevent further injury.
It may not be wise to rely on an elbow support long term however, as this may interfere with the normal functioning of the elbow joint, and lead to atrophy and loss of strength in important supporting muscles.
It can be a useful tool in the early stages, but try not to become dependent on it.
4. Modify your movement patterns
If the injury is not severe and you experience only mild amounts of pain, you may be able to carry on with your normal activities, but your technique may require a little tweaking.
If it is a sport related injury, consider working with your coach to help perform the movement pattern in a safe manner. If the injury is related to an everyday activity like gardening or typing, ensure that you are regularly changing positions and taking short breaks to stretch and move around.
5. Mobilise the joint
When the pain subsides to a tolerable level, it is important to mobilise the joint as much as possible to improve blood flow and restore normal motion.
It is important to consult a trained physiotherapist to assist you in your recovery. They will prescribe a specific set of stretches and strengthening exercises to improve the health of the surrounding joint tissue and reduce the risk of further injury in the future.
Some of the most common exercises include:
- Wrist curls
- Myofascial release
- Foam ball squeezes
- Wrist flexor and extensor stretches
Check out this video for more exercise and strengthening ideas.
6. Shock wave therapy
Although it may sound extreme, shock wave therapy is in fact one of the best ways to reduce pain and speed up the recovery of tennis elbow, and may other joint issues.
It is a non-invasive procedure in which acoustic shockwaves are passed through the skin to the affected area.
Although the exact mechanism behind why the treatment works is not entirely clear, it does seem to produce positive results. Just ask orthopaedic surgeon Nick Fernandez , who after suffering from tennis elbow for 18 months opted in to try out the new treatment, which was initially developed for treating foot and ankle problems.
It was so successful that he became one of the first surgeons in the UK to offer the treatment to the public.
He reported that:
“The treatment turned my life around and it is proving very effective for patients too. can treat a range of sports injuries as well as tendon inflammation caused by repetitive strain. As well as elbow problems, it can be used to ease foot and ankle pain.”
In extreme cases, if there is a full tear of one of the tendons or muscles surrounding the joint, surgery may be required.
Typically the damaged section of tendon is released and the remaining tendon is repaired.
As the guys at the Shoulder Doc state:
“Traditionally the standard procedure for tennis elbow has been an open surgical release. This usually involves a small incision and can be performed as a day case procedure. The results of this surgery are over 80% successful. With new arthroscopic (keyhole) techniques, the results are the same as open procedures, but with additional advantages”.
If surgery is the option that you end up taking, it may still be beneficial to employ many of the other treatment options we have discussed in the post-surgery rehab phase.
8. Non Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDS)
NSAIDs are often one of the first things people will turn too if they experience any nagging joint pain. Although they can definitely be effective in bringing down levels of pain, they may not be the safest treatment option out there.
As the guys at Web MD point out:
“Taking painkillers such as paracetamol or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen and aspirin can help with pain and swelling. However, NASIDs can cause side effects such as stomach irritation so you should only use them as short courses, guided by your GP or specialist”.
In general, the pros seem to outweigh the cons with regards to NSAIDs, and more natural alternatives are often the more suitable choice…
9. Anti-inflammatory Foods
We’ve discussed the benefits of anti-inflammatory foods and herbs many times here on the Eu Natural blog, but they’re always worth recapping over.
In general you should be aiming to consume an alkaline diet, based around whole foods such as leafy greens, pulses, wholegrains and dark fruits. These foods are rich in antioxidants and encourage the body towards an alkaline state – reducing inflammation and slowing the ageing process.
There are also many herbs and supplements that you add on to your healthy diet to reduce inflammation even further. Some of the most effective include:
- Turmeric – the yellow spice that has been shown to be as powerful as NSAIDs in reducing pain and inflammation, without the nasty side effects.
- Ginger – similarly to turmeric, ginger is one of the most potent anti-inflammatory spices available.
- Boswellia – the extract from the boswellia serrata (or Indian Frankincense) plant has been shown to soothe joint pain and inhibit pro-inflammatory enzymes in the body.
It should be noted that although these herbs and spices can aid in reducing inflammation, they are only really effective when combined with a healthy, balanced lifestyle.
Have you ever suffered form Tennis Elbow? If so, how did you go about treating it?