Tennis elbow is known as lateral epicondylitis or more simply, tendonitis. It is inflammation of the tendon attachment to the humerus. The pain involved usually begins at the outside of the elbow and can radiate down the arm and in severe cases, to the hand. Most commonly, pain and sometimes weakness is brought on by grasping things like the steering wheel while driving or even picking up a glass. Sometimes an achy discomfort is present at night or after activities. Because we continually use our hands and arms, consistent care must be given to correct the injury. A similar condition, medial epicondylitis, can occur on the medial part of the elbow. This is commonly known as golfer’s elbow.
Aggravating Factors: Factors negatively affecting tennis elbow include strong repetitive motion where the elbow is extended and overloaded, such as tennis, golf or swimming, activities subject to repetitive stress such as hammering, turning a screw driver, computer work, excessive hand shaking (politicians beware) or window washing, or an increase in activity, or when poor conditioning or poor technique is involved.
Self-health Measures: Reduce the pain and inflammation of tennis elbow through rest, ice, compression and elevation (for more severe cases). To rest the area simply means modifying or avoiding the activities that aggravate the condition. It may mean modifying the grips on the golf clubs or tennis racquet and building up the grip on a screwdriver. Maintaining some movement of the affected area is necessary to promote circulation and tissue healing. Regular application of ice to the area will help control pain and discomfort and subsequently help reduce inflammation. Ice for 10 minutes and repeat three to four times throughout the day. For compression, use a forearm/ elbow band to support the tendon attachment during activities. In more severe cases, wrap the area with an elastic bandage to aid in decreasing the swelling. Elevating the arm above the heart is indicated for severe swelling.
Soft tissue manipulation by a massage therapist or physical therapist will help. Certain heat-producing liniments, available from an acupuncturist or herbalist, may bring relief by improving circulation to the area. If these methods don’t bring the relief you’re looking for, several ultrasound treatments by a physical therapist often achieve a positive outcome.
By Jill Bielawski and Jerry Weinert
Originally published in Massage & Bodywork magazine, February/March 2000.
Copyright 2003. Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals. All rights reserved.
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