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How to Effectively Treat Tennis Elbow

by Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT March 13, 2020 0 Comments

woman playing tennisUnderstanding how to treat tennis elbow (a.k.a golfer’s or mouse elbow) can affect your quality of life due to pain, loss of forearm strength, and decreased flexibility. With the right information, you can start addressing these issues immediately at home. Keep reading to learn how to treat tennis elbow.

Home Remedies

Treatment at home is always the best place to start when addressing tennis elbow. It requires no wait time to see your doctor or physical therapist and can start providing relief almost instantly, or within a few days. Here is a quick overview of what home options you can start immediately.

  • Resting the affected area for several days to weeks to allow healing
  • Activity modification to prevent aggravation of symptoms
  • Use of an ice pack or ice massage
  • Use of a heating pad
  • Home exercises, such as stretching and strengthening
  • Self-administered massage
  • Use of a brace, tape, or splint with aggravating activities
  • Anti-inflammatory medications to reduce swelling or pain

For more information on other home remedies for tennis elbow, check out our full resource here.

Physical Therapy

Working with a physical therapist is a great way to expedite your recovery from tennis elbow. You will work with your therapist to design a treatment program that addresses your specific issues related to elbow function, overuse, pain, strength, and flexibility. Plus, they will educate you in ways to prevent future injuries and how to fully return to your normal daily activities pain-free. This will help you get back to gripping, reaching, and sports (especially racquet sports) quicker.

More About What to Expect from Physical Therapy for Tennis Elbow

Tennis Elbow Stretches

Whether you choose to start a stretching routine on your own or with the guidance of a professional, the focus is straightforward. The goal is to address stiff, restricted areas with stretching. This will help restore elbow mobility, promote blood flow for healing affected forearm muscles, and decrease overall pain.

Strengthening

It is likely that your arm strength, particularly the wrist and forearm, will be affected by the pain and inflammation you’re experiencing. This is why strengthening exercises are crucial during recovery. Initially, you will start with low complexity relatively pain-free movements. Expect to progress with the amount of coordination and resistance as you heal and improve.

Massage for Tennis Elbow

The affected tendons of the elbow are very easily located with palpation. This means massage is an effective way to address these injured superficial tendons. Specific techniques, such as cross friction massage, can be used to address the inflamed tendons themselves. Other options may include addressing pain and stiffness throughout the forearms muscles, wrist and upper arm. These can be done at home or under the guidance of a professional such as a massage therapist or physical therapist.

Techniques for Massage for Tennis Elbow

Acupuncture

This traditional treatment option can decrease pain and restore balance to the elbow. This is done by inserting small painless needles into areas of the elbow that promote healing and pain relief. Other areas of the body may be needed too to promote overall health as well. This option can also be combined with other traditional treatments, such as cupping.

Pain Management

Pain is the main reason for seeking treatment for tennis elbow. Initially, getting pain symptoms under control will involve modalities that provide quick short-term relief.

Cold and Hot Therapy

Hot and cold therapy are great ways to provide quick relief. Since tennis elbow tends to be a chronic slow onset injury, alternating between these two options is usually best. Use of an ice pack on the outside of the elbow will reduce swelling and pain. Whereas, heat will promote blood flow and relaxation of any stiff tissues.

Here is more in-depth information on alternating between hot and cold therapy.

Over the Counter Pain Medication

If you are experiencing chronic pain or inflammation that is affecting your ability to use your arm, you can consider using an over the counter medication. Typically, a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug, or NSAIDS, such as ibuprofen, Aleve, or aspirin, will provide the most relief. These can be good short term options to improve tolerance for other treatments and get you on track for recovery. Be careful of side effects related to organ damage, particularly the liver and kidneys.

Injections

An injection to promote healing may be recommended by your sports medicine doctor. These may include platelet-rich plasma or Botox injections. Dry needling is another option to decrease muscle irritation, done either by an orthopedic doctor or physical therapist. Steroid injections are not typically helpful since they are meant to treat joint injuries and tennis elbow is a tendon injury.

TENS Unit

Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, or TENS, can provide great short term relief as well. The electric signal helps break up pain signals going from the elbow to your brain. Talk to your doctor, therapist, or a TENS unit representative about how you should set up the electrodes for maximal relief.

Joint Support

To promote healing and rest for the elbow joint, sometimes it just needs a little outside assistance. Use of tape, braces, or splints can decrease strain and potentially promote better mechanics of the arm with normal daily activities.

Elbow Taping

The most popular option for taping the elbow is with kinesio tape. This stretchy tape can promote blood flow and improve elbow coordination through sensory feedback. This is preferred over athletic tape since it restricts overall movement of the elbow.

Get More Information About Elbow Joint Taping Here

Braces

Elbow braces are meant to provide mild support via compression, sensory feedback, and pain relief. These can range from a forearm band that puts pressure directly on sore tendons to a more comprehensive brace that covers the entire elbow. Braces aren’t always necessary though, so talk to your doctor or therapist about the best option for you.

Splints

Splints are meant to restrict the motion of the joint where they are applied. These would only be used with severe elbow pain, injury, or if other more complicated injuries are involved like nerve injury or fracture. If you need a splint, your doctor will recommend the best one.

Safe and Effective Treatment for Tennis Elbow

If you experience the onset of severe pain, tingling, a rapid decrease in arm strength, or any other symptoms you are concerned about, bring them to your doctor’s attention. An X-ray or MRI may be ordered to rule out other complications if needed.

Nonsurgical options are best for treating this injury. Use your symptoms of tennis elbow as a gauge for what treatment options are best for you and when you can progress. Tennis elbow pain is considered self-limiting. This means that if you take the time to rest and care for your elbow, you will be back on track in no time.

Sources:

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/tennis-elbow/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20351991

https://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/tennis-elbow-lateral-epicondylitis

SHOP TENNIS ELBOW PRODUCTS

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Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT
Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT

JayDee Vykoukal is a Doctor of Physical Therapy, owner of the healthy habit platform Health Means Wealth, and freelance medical writer. She loves traveling and spending time with her family in nature. Her passion is helping others continue to participate in the activities they love through education and proper exercise.



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