Tennis elbow–”lateral epicondylitis”–is the common name for pain near the side of your elbow, where the tendons of your forearm muscles attach to the bony knob on the outside of the elbow. The pain may spread into your forearm and even your wrist. It may hurt when you extend your wrist (bend it back), make a fist, straighten your fingers, or try to grip objects, such as a coffee cup. Your forearm may also be weakened.
Tennis elbow is usually an overuse injury, in this case, of the forearm muscles/tendons that you use to straighten and extend your wrist. Many things besides playing tennis–including computer keyboarding–can cause it.
Tennis elbow is usually defined as a kind of tendonitis, or inflammation of the tendons. However, research has mostly failed to find the tendon inflammation that defines tendonitis. It’s probably more accurate to describe it as a chronic exhaustion/strain in the muscles that extend the wrist and fingers, and/or a dysfunction/degeneration of their tendons.
Tennis elbow is often slow to heal, taking six to 24 months if left to heal on its own. But you can speed up the healing process significantly with diligent self-care.
For many people, this is the hardest thing! Completely stop doing the activities that irritate your elbow–for at least a week, maybe longer.
Figure out exactly what causes the pain, and then how to modify that motion so that it doesn’t hurt. Tennis players–watch your backhand. Computer keyboarders, make sure that the back of your keyboard isn’t elevated, and if it is, use a wrist pad so that your wrists stay level as you keyboard.
Ice massage is great for controlling inflammation, so if your tennis elbow is of the inflammatory sort, it will help. You’ll need to do it frequently–4 or more times per day.
After the initial inflammation is controlled, move to contrast therapy–alternating warmth and cold to the area (always finishing with cold). Contrast therapy will significantly increase circulation to the area–which will speed healing.
One of the best things you can do to heal tennis elbow is self-massage. Luckily, it’s very easy to massage your own elbow. There are two very specific kinds of massage that will help you heal your tennis elbow: friction massage and trigger point massage.
For friction massage, use your thumb to rub back and forth cross-wise to the tendon, at the point where it hurts the most. Your pressure should be fairly firm, causing slight discomfort but not actual pain.
For trigger point massage, find the knob of bone on the outside of your elbow. You’ll be exploring for trigger points anywhere in your forearm between this knob and a few inches south, toward your wrist.
Probe with your fingers to find extremely tender spots. Treat them by holding pressure on them for up to a minute, or until the pain retreats significantly. Do this several times during the day until you can no longer find the trigger point.
Trigger points in your neck can also contribute to forearm pain, however these are best left to a licensed massage therapist.
Here are some exercises for the early phases of healing, and to warm up for more demanding exercise:
**Mobilize your wrist with gentle and frequent bending, straightening and rotation. Do this gently–no pain–but many times a day.
**Put your hand palm up on a table. Touch your thumb to each finger sequentially, repeating the sequence 10-20 times.
**Put your hand palm down on your leg. Turn your hand over so that the palm faces up. Repeat 10-20 times.
Remember: do nothing that causes you pain! If an exercise hurts, wait until your injury has healed further.
In the early period of healing, and to warm up for more demanding stretches, do this gentle stretch: Hold your arm straight out in front or to the side of you, with elbow and wrist straight (or as straight as you can without causing yourself pain.) Hold the stretch for 20-30 seconds; relax and repeat 5-10 times at least twice a day.
Professional MassageProfessional treatment massage can help a lot–but it can’t do the whole job. In order to make real progress, you’ll have to take self-care steps at home, too.
When to See a Doctor
You should see your doctor if the pain persists for over a week in spite of self-treatment. See your medical doctor immediately if you can’t bend your elbow; your elbow is hot, swollen, and you have a fever; if your elbow looks mis-shapen; or if you think you may have broken a bone or have an infection in your arm.
Remember: Do not do any of these exercises, stretches, or techniques if they conflict with the advice of your doctor, chiropractor, or physical therapist, and don’t continue doing them if they make you feel worse.
Copyright 2010 Nancy Hausauer All rights reserved worldwide.
Nancy Hausauer is a licensed massage therapist, energy healer, and writer specializing in natural healing and wellness techniques. She has a private practice in Tacoma, Washington, U.S. To learn more specific details about self-care for tennis elbow, visit her website at www.Tacoma-Massage-Therapy.com/tennis-elbow.html. For other natural ways to support health and wellness, visit her energy healing website at www.The-Energy-Healing-Site.com/ .