How Do I Fix My Tennis Elbow?

If you have pain on the outside of your elbow that has been nagging you for months, you are not alone. In fact, not a week goes by that we don't see this condition in our office. Let me guess some other symptoms: you can't pick up a glass of water without a deep aching, even though you may lift heavy weights without much of an issue. The pain has probably been ongoing for months and getting worse. You are constantly rubbing your elbow. If you find yourself nodding your head, then you have tennis elbow.

The official name for this condition is lateral epicondylitis, and that just means "inflammation on the outside of the bony part of the elbow." Let's lay out how this problem begins. It's not secret that we use our hands to grip and maneuver objects every single day of our life. There's four major muscles of the top of your forearm, and they all connect to the exact same place. That means pretty much all gripping and grasping movements pull on this area. Other movements, such as typing and extending the wrist also use the muscles in this area. It's really hard to avoid using these specific muscles (and we don't recommend trying).

In the image, the black spot represents the origin of all the related muscles and where pain is usually felt the most. The lines emanating from that point are the muscles that all anchor and pull on that spot. You can easily see how that area can become inflamed with too much activity, and not enough rest and recovery. If you continue to overuse the area, the pain can become chronic, meaning occurring repeatedly and over a long period of time. The longer this goes on, the more intense it can become, and the longer it takes to fix, even with proper treatment.

Muscles related to tennis elbow
Tennis elbow brace

So, What Do I Do to Fix It?

In the early stages when inflammation and pain levels are high we recommend rest, avoiding activities that cause excessive inflammation, using ice, and stretching. If you must use the area, for instance an athlete with an important match coming up, you can also use a type of brace that temporarily helps relieve tension in the area. This is not a long term solution and should just be used for necessary activities that cause irritation.

There are several different kinds of braces, and we only recommend the style in the picture. Avoid the ones with air bladders, or large full sleeves, I find these cumbersome and ineffective. This will not fix the issue long term. Actually, it won't fix the issue at all. It will just reduce pain during short periods of inflammatory activity. Your symptoms can still become worse afterwards.

To fix the issue long-term, a combination of manual therapy treatments and rehabilitative exercise are necessary. In our office, we find an approach of Active Release Technique and Graston Technique to be effective manual therapy treatments for tennis elbow. Active Release Technique, or ART, involves stretching the muscle while applying pressure. This relieves tension and pain in a short amount of time. You may even feel improvement in just a few minutes.

Graston Technique is a more aggressive approach that is not suitable for everyone, and involves using a tool to scrape over the tight muscles. This helps break up adhesions and scar tissue within the muscle. Sometimes, bruising and redness can occur afterwards, this is normal. It should go away within 24-48 hours.

Finally, a rehabilitative exercise program specific to tennis elbow is implemented to allow long term relief and strengthening of the weakening muscle. This is the most effective method for relieving symptoms for good. As a bonus, I'm going to include one of the exercises we teach to our tennis elbow patients to heal relieve pain for good. Check out the video below!