How to Heal Tennis Elbow: Tips & Therapies for Lasting Relief

How to Heal Tennis Elbow: Tips & Therapies for Lasting Relief

By Professional Physical Therapy

Many people diagnosed with tennis elbow have never played tennis! While tennis elbow might result from playing tennis or pickleball, any activity that requires repeated arm movements can cause this condition (i.e., typing, racking, or knitting).

People with tennis elbow often complain of pain around the elbow, usually on the bony point just above the outside of the elbow called the lateral epicondyle. Pain can spread into the forearm and wrist. The area may be tender to the touch, and you may experience weakness or discomfort and an inability to perform normal daily activities such as lifting a cup of coffee.

There are a few things you can do immediately to help ease the symptoms of tennis elbow. But if you have symptoms that last longer than a few weeks or symptoms that are re-occurring, there are other treatments you can try to restore maximum function and remain pain-free.

What is Tennis Elbow

Tennis elbow, also known as lateral epicondylitis or lateral tendinosis, is a condition that involves tendons located around the outside of the elbow. These tendons, which anchor muscle to bone, work to extend the wrist or fingers. Over time these tendons degenerate, weakening the attachment site and placing a strain on the muscles.

Quick Treatment for Tennis Elbow

Tennis elbow treatment works best when it starts as soon as symptoms appear. A long rest from the activity that caused the problem allows the small tears in the tendon to heal. For quick relief you can try to:

  • Avoid or reduce activities that make symptoms worse.
  • Use anti-inflammatory gel onto the affected area to help ease the pain.
  • Use cold pack wrapped in a towel on the affected area for up to 20 minutes every 2 to 3 hours.
  • Try doing simple exercises, such as bending and straightening your arm.
  • Wear a wrist splint with the wrist in 40 degrees of extension that can be fabricated by a Professional PT hand therapist. The splint we fabricate for this condition is called the wrist cock-up orthosis splint (shown below). The purpose of the brace is to decrease the tension on the wrist extensor muscles allowing them to heal in a shortened position. This position will help reduce elbow pain and inflammation but most importantly allow healing.
Wrist Cock-up Orthosis Splint

How Occupational Therapy/ Physical Therapy Can Help Tennis Elbow

In most cases, more treatment is needed to protect and heal the tendon and physical therapy is highly effective. A trained therapist can develop a personalized treatment plan to restore normal function, reduce pain, and prevent the condition from returning. Here’s how it can help:

  1. Targeted Exercises: Physical and occupational therapists can guide you through exercises designed to strengthen the muscles of the forearm and improve flexibility. This helps to support the elbow and reduce strain on the tendons.
  2. Manual Therapy: Techniques such as massage, mobilization, and stretching can help to alleviate pain, improve blood flow, and reduce tension in the affected area.
  3. Education: Learning about proper ergonomics and body mechanics can help you avoid movements that exacerbate your symptoms. Your therapist can also provide advice on modifying activities and using supportive equipment.
  4. Modalities: Therapists may use treatments like ultrasound, electrical stimulation, or laser therapy to enhance healing and reduce inflammation.
  5. Progressive Loading: Gradually increasing the intensity and load of exercises helps to strengthen the tendons and muscles, reducing the likelihood of re-injury.
  6. Custom Splinting: Although there are adequate braces on the market, a custom hand splint created by a certified hand therapist can ensure the optimal healing position. This will ensure that the brace fits properly for the best possible results.

Exercises for Tennis Elbow Rehab

The first steps to treating tennis elbow are reducing inflammation and resting the irritated muscles and tendons while promoting healing. Then you can begin gentle exercises to strengthen the muscles and prevent a recurrence. Below are a few suggestions.

  1. Fist clench: Squeeze a soft ball or towel tightly and hold for a few seconds. Repeat 10 times.
  2. Wrist extension: Hold a light dumbbell in your hand with your palm facing down. Slowly lift your hand upwards and lower it back down. Repeat 10 times.
  3. Wrist flexion: Hold a light dumbbell in your hand with your palm facing up. Slowly lift your hand upwards and lower it back down. Repeat 10 times.
  4. Towel twist: Hold a rolled-up towel with both hands. Twist the towel by moving your hands in opposite directions as if wringing out water. Repeat 10 times.

Tips to Prevent Tennis Elbow

If you are at risk for tennis below, it’s important to know the steps you can take to prevent it. Here are a few tips to keep your elbows healthy and help prevent the condition:

  • Wear protective equipment for work, sports, or hobbies.
  • Check your sports equipment. Properly fitted gear (i.e., tennis racquet or golf clubs) reduces strain on your muscles and tendons in your arm.
  • Ensure your work and home environments are ergonomically friendly. Adjust your workspace to keep your wrists straight and your elbows close to your body.
  • Don’t “play or work through the pain” during or after physical activity. At the first sign of elbow pain, it’s important to stop, rest and seek medical care if the pain does not go away.
  • Take breaks during prolonged repetitive activities. Give your body time to rest and recover.
  • Stretch and warm up before playing sports or doing any type of repetitive activity. Stretching the forearm muscles can be beneficial.
  • Cool down and stretch after physical activity.

If you have been struggling with tennis elbow, consulting a hand therapist can be a crucial step towards recovery. With a tailored treatment plan and professional guidance, you can manage your symptoms effectively and return to your daily activities pain-free.

Don’t overlook your elbow health; look into elbow pain treatment options today. Request an appointment at Professional and let our team of experts help you on your road to recovery today.

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