Golfers and tennis players who tend to make repetitive movements in an athletic setting, often feel symptoms of Tennis elbow or lateral epicondylitis. This condition around the elbow can lead to stiffness, swelling, joint pain and difficulty moving.
If you don‘t play tennis, it doesn‘t automatically keep you out of risk, since only 5 percent of people who suffer from Tennis Elbow actually play tennis.
As a Sports Medicine Physician, I treat this on a daily basis with my patients who work with repetitive movements and suffer from symptoms of lateral epicondylitis.
I usually recommend the following course of action for treating tennis elbow at home.
I don’t play Tennis, Can Tennis Elbow Affect People like Me?
Identified as an overuse injury, Tennis Elbow is the result of several micro tears to the extensor muscles in your forearm. Typically, a patient will experience symptoms on the lateral side of the elbow, however, sometimes pain radiates into the forearm.
Lateral Epicondylosis, or Tennis Elbow, can often occur without any signs of inflammation whatsoever. This elbow tendon injury, among many others, is a common injury for those who have a very active lifestyle, are over 35, and engage in demanding and repetitive motions of the forearm extensor muscles on a regular basis. Simple motions like shaking someone’s hand or holding your cup of coffee may cause pain.
Anatomy of Lateral Epicondylitis
The pain often associated with a case of tennis elbow occurs at the extensor carpi radialis brevis (ECRB) attachment, lateral epicondyle, and/or the common extensor mass. At the lateral epicondyle, the strain of the tendon will pull and pull away from the knobby part of the bone, which creates those micro tears.
When the connection from muscles to bone begin to pull away from repetitive stress, elbow pain will occur, calling in for treatment with anti-inflammatory, physical therapy, steroid injections, and other various solutions for treating tennis elbow assigned by a physical therapist.
Possible Ways That Tennis Elbow Can Flare Up
Regardless of the name, playing tennis isn‘t the major cause of Tennis Elbow. Especially since a doctor can diagnose tennis elbow in a patient who has never stepped foot on a tennis court before, identifying the main cause behind the pain can be a little confusing.
A distinct feeling of pain in your forearm muscles can be the result of any of these activities, which might lead to Tennis Elbow, or lateral epicondylitis.
- Racquet sports
- Using household tools like screwdrivers or hammers
- Weight lifting
- Playing musical instruments
Tennis Elbow Symptoms
Experiencing pain in your muscles, tendons, wrist flexors or wrist extensors may lead to Tennis Elbow diagnosis from your doctor or physical therapist.
The symptoms of Tennis Elbow include:
- Pain and tenderness in the bony knob (Lateral Epicondyle) on the outside of your elbow and forearm
- Pain in the muscles of the forearm
- Pain in the upper or lower arm, like the extensor carpi and radialis brevis
- Limited range of motion when you raise your hand or straighten your wrist
- Pain when your palm faces upwards, you make a fist or grip an object
How To Treat Tennis Elbow At Home
After proper diagnosis, your doctor may recommend certain home remedies for tennis elbow or physical therapy exercises you can do under the guidance of a therapist.
At home, you can turn to different forms of treatment for pain and for strengthening to help you with prevention and pain management:
1. Taking Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory For Pain
Your doctor may prescribe you a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory to manage the pain. It can be taken in a tablet form orally or can be applied like a gel, topically.
2. Rest and Ice
One of the most basic and most needed forms of treatment can be found in rest. Taking a break from those movements you‘re continuously making or modifying the technique in which you make them can help in the long run.
Especially if you really can‘t participate in the activities without pain, you might want to consider this one as the main solution to your Tennis Elbow.
Ice can be used, just like with any inflammation, to help control the swelling. It‘s important to apply the ice early on, preferably within the first 24-48 hours from when the pain begins.
3. Stretching Before and After Activity
Tennis elbow exercises and physical therapy can help with preventing and alleviating stiffness and shortening of the tendon. To complete these stretches, you should do them gently, with slow, deliberate, and controlled movements to always have pain awareness.
Stretching can help improve your flexibility and range of motion, which will help reduce pain with movement.
4. Strengthen the Joint and Muscles With Exercises
Once your pain has decreased, you can begin to strengthen the muscles surrounding the joint.
Grip strength is an extremely important aspect to develop and fortify if you are looking to complete activity and daily movements without pain. The wrist extensor stretch is a great start.
Follow it up by stretching your wrist the other way.
Forearm muscle exercises are critical when treating tennis elbow pain.
5. Use Physical Therapy To Correct Underlying Function and Mobility
Regardless if you are focusing on tennis elbow treatment at home or at a guided physical therapy location, exercises and stretches will help treat and strengthen your elbow joint and pain location.
6. Massage to Alleviate Pain and Soothe Muscles
If you are looking for pain relief, massage therapy can definitely help. A massage with a focus on the extensor tendon, which is commonly aggravated, especially using trigger points and manipulating the myofascia can help a great deal.
You can also rely on massages with:
- Skin Rolling
7. Boost Anti-Inflammatory Foods In Your Diet
Anti-inflammatory foods can help with your joint pain and inflammation. Consider raising your consumption of anti-inflammatory foods and supplements, like berries, ginger, fish, turmeric, and various sources of omega-3.
8. Finding the Right Support While Exercising
Just like with most injuries, bracing can help maintain the proper form or limit movement of the injured body part. A tennis elbow support strap, sleeve or brace can be the sort of extra support you might be looking for.
- Elbow Strap: To be placed right below the lateral epicondyle and on your forearm muscles, an elbow strap is a lightweight solution for finding pain relief. You can use this while you are participating in sports activities for more support while moving.
- Compression Sleeve: Not only are these support sleeves designed to help with Tennis Elbow, but you might also notice athletes wear them to help with quite a few arm-related injuries. These sleeves are really lightweight and can slide right underneath your clothes while distributing compression and support,
- Elbow Brace: If you have so much pain and really need to immobilize your arm, a brace can limit your mobility and offer you maximum support. These braces are often seen after surgery and in extreme cases.
Perhaps even after trying out all the different forms of support accessories, taking in the right foods, consistently taking in medication, and following every suggestion your physical therapist throws at you, you still have pain.
The next logical step would be to make another appointment in to see your doctor, who should guide you with some in-office tennis elbow treatments.
In-Office Tennis Elbow Treatments
Even though our article is focusing on At-Home Treatments, heading in to see your doctor if all else fails is going to be on everyone‘s list—even if it‘s all the way at the bottom.
Here are some In-Office Treatments while seeing a medical professional that can help you treat your Tennis Elbow:
Steroid Injections for Pain
After diagnosis, a steroid injection can be administered to relieve the patient of joint pain. In most cases, this relief lasts on average six to eight weeks after the shot is taken.
Resorting to a Safely-Administered Surgery
If the patient is still feeling pain after a considerable amount of time (6 months to a year) following the conservative treatments above, orthopedic surgeons might suggest surgery as a treatment option.
Surgery for Tennis Elbow involves removing any damaged tissue or tendon and stimulating a healing response in the area. A surgeon can choose between open surgery or arthroscopic surgery.
Shock Wave Therapy
Even though it is controversial to use shock wave therapy for treatment for tennis elbow, some newly diagnosed patients have seen results in pain and the ability to perform daily activity.
Ultrasonic Tenotomy (TENEX procedure)
For another minimally invasive procedure, some physicians will perform Ultrasonic Tenotomy, which is also known as the TENEX procedure.
This procedure is reserved for tendon damage and the pain that often comes with it. TENEX is also performed in patients who have not only Tennis Elbow but also pain from Golfers elbow or “Runner‘s Knee”.
The surgeon removes damaged tissue by use of ultrasound.
Finding the Perfect Treatment Right at Home
Home tennis elbow rehab can be extremely successful in most patients. However, if you do continue to have pain in your everyday movements, consulting with your doctor or physical therapist about your pain will help you take the next steps to receive next-level treatment in dealing with your injury.
Resources & References
- Tennis elbow – Adrian E. Flatt, MD, FRC Proc (Bayl Univ Med Cent). 2008 Oct; 21(4): 400–402. doi: 10.1080/08998280.2008.11928437
- The Short Term Effects of Shock-Wave Therapy for Tennis Elbow: a Clinical Trial Study Acta Inform Med. 2018; 26(1): 54–56. doi: 10.5455/aim.2018.26.54-56
- ACSM Sports Medicine Basics: Tennis Elbow
- Determining the Immediate Effects of Counterforce Bracing Versus Kinesiotaping in Patients With Tennis Elbow (LE): ClinicalTrials.gov Identifier: NCT02235818
- The Immediate Effects of Orthoses on Pain in People with Lateral Epicondylalgia
- Lateral Epicondylitis (Tennis Elbow) – Columbia University
- Tennis elbow: Strengthening and stretching exercises