By Jerry Del Priore
If you’re an avid tennis player, or participant of any other racquet sports, then you are probably familiar with the term tennis elbow, or lateral epicondylitis—a painful condition of the elbow caused by overuse from racquet sports and/or other daily activities.
Lateral epicondylitis involves the muscles and tendons of the forearm. Your forearm muscles extend your wrist and fingers. Your forearm tendons — often called extensors — attach the muscles to bone. They connect on the lateral epicondyle of the humerus.
The muscle involved in tennis elbow is called the Extensor Carpi Radialis Brevis (ECRB). The ECRB muscle helps extend, abduct and stabilize the wrist when the elbow is straight, such as during a tennis groundstroke.
When the ECRB is weakened from overuse, microscopic tears form in the tendon area where it attaches to the lateral epicondyle. This leads to inflammation and pain.
However, there are ways to help prevent lateral epicondylitis, and treat it if it becomes problematic.
- First, strengthen the muscles of your arms (forearms, biceps, and triceps), shoulders, and upper back. This will help take stress off of your elbow.
- Secondly, stretch the muscles of your forearm that connect to the ECRB tendon, given special attention to your dominant arm.
- You can do this by holding one arm out straight, palm down.
- Use your other hand to hold the back of your arm’s hand. Press down so your fingers point to the ground.
- You should feel a light stretch on the top of your forearm. But do not stretch it to the point of pain.
- Next, do not overuse your arm with repeated movements that can injure your ECRB tendon. For example, alternate hands during activities, if possible.
- Use proper techniques and movements during physical and everyday activities.
- Use ergonomically correct equipment that supports the natural alignment of joints and posture, especially for your ability, body size, and body strength.
- Rest is the best way to deal with tennis elbow when it acts up before it becomes a chronic condition, as well as ice and a mild anti-inflammatory agent, such as aspirin (as long as you don’t have stomach issues), to help cope with swelling and tenderness.
- If you prefer something natural to deal with inflammation, I suggest a spice called turmeric. Plus, papain, a digestive enzyme that helps break down protein in the body, such a tissue from an injury, and bromelain, a digestive enzyme found in pineapple juice and in the pineapple stem that works as an anti-inflammatory. All three natural substances come in chewable tablets and capsules. In addition, drink plenty of water, and use B6, which acts as a natural diuretic, helping to rid the dead tissue from an injury from the body.
- Following the aforementioned stretching routine will also provide a measure of relief.
- Wear a counterforce brace during activities that require grasping or twisting arm movements. A counterforce brace is a strap worn around your forearm just below your elbow. This brace may distribute pressure from the muscles used throughout the arm, easing pressure on the tendon. The brace is not usually used for prevention. But it may be recommended for someone who is at very high risk for tennis elbow. Talk to your doctor if you’re thinking of using one of these braces for prevention. A counterforce brace is not a substitute for rehab exercises or an excuse to continue overuse activities, however.
- Your last resort is surgery, which you’ll want to avoid, I’m sure.