Tennis elbow, or lateral epicondylitis, as it is medically referred to; can affect anyone including those of us spending long hours doing computer work. It is an inflammation in one of the muscle tendons that attaches to the lateral epicondyle of the elbow (the bony protrusion on the outside of your elbow). Inflammation can be caused by irritation, overuse, and micro tears in the tendon where it attaches to the bone. Tennis elbow is usually diagnosed solely on patient history and symptoms. Traditional diagnostics like X-rays and blood tests are not helpful in determining the presence of this condition.
So how do you know if you have tennis elbow?
• Elbow pain that gradually worsens.
• Tenderness when the tendon is pressed directly.
• Pain radiating from the outside of the elbow to the forearm and back of the hand when grasping or twisting.
• Gripping and movements of the wrist hurt, especially wrist extension and lifting movements.
• Activities that use the muscles that extend the wrist (lifting with the palm down) are characteristically painful.
• Morning stiffness.
Traditional medicine treats tennis elbow with cryotherapy (ice), rest, anti-inflammatory drugs, and sometimes cortisone injections; very rarely does it require surgery. It can take weeks, months, and even years for it to heal on its own depending on the severity of the damage, your age and any incidence of re-injury.
Giving up a favorite sport for a few months is bad enough, but how are you supposed to heal if the injury is due to occupational overuse? Anti-inflammatory drugs and steroid shots are only patches that mask the symptoms for a short amount of time and come with their own risk of side effects; the shots can have degenerative effects on connective tissues in the area further weakening the stability of the joint and the overuse of anti-inflammatory drugs can have an adverse effect on your kidneys.
Massage techniques for tennis elbow have been used successfully to alleviate muscle tension in the forearms, break up scar tissue and adhesions around the tendons and joint capsule, increase circulation, and decrease healing time. Our goals are to elongate the extensor muscles on the top side of the forearm so that they are not short and pulling on their tendinous attachments at the elbow. We also cross fiber the extensor muscles and their tendons so that they move freely without adhesions. Cross fiber pressure directly on the tendon that is injured or irritated must be done carefully due to the sensitivity of this area, but will encourage the body to heal more quickly by stimulating collagen production. We also look at the general health of the muscles and tendons in the shoulder, rotator cuff and neck; as these structures can be closely related due to nerve impingement which can cause pain in the elbows and wrists.
In addition to massage, at HOPE Wellness Institute we encourage our clients to do a certain amount of self-care to facilitate a speedy recovery. The use of hot/cold therapy in alternating applications can encourage circulation and healing in the affected area. Strengthening exercises that are executed properly (at the appropriate weight and frequency) can bring muscle tone and structural balance into the forearm and act as prevention against recurring injuries. We also ask our clients to look closely at their daily activities, workplace ergonomics, and sporting equipment to make improvements, remove stressors, and reduce any further chances of aggravating their condition.
Tennis elbow is not something that you have to “live with”. With help from our talented therapists at HOPE Wellness Institute, you can be on the road to recovery more quickly than traditional medicine can offer. Please call if you have any questions regarding our treatment for tennis elbow or if you would like to schedule an appointment today.