How To Treat Tennis Elbow

A Fix My Elbow guide to Tennis Elbow Treatment, Exercises and Stretches, by James Luccock.


For those experiencing tennis elbow (lateral epicondylitis), the pain can range from mild to extreme and persistent. The earlier that tennis elbow is treated, the better. Taking steps to reduce the pain and protect the strained muscles and tissue makes all the difference for people experiencing pain.

 

This article will outline the different kinds of treatment to reduce pain from tennis elbow and prevent it from getting worse or becoming more chronic.


What is tennis elbow?

Tennis elbow occurs when the ligaments and tendons in the elbow and forearm are strained from repetitive movements or motions that put extra stress on the area.


The condition is most common among manual labourers who are using repetitive motions like hammering or painting. Carpenters, plumbers, painters, typists, musicians, and others who regularly twist or put pressure on their wrist and forearm experience tennis elbow. 


Doctors find that tennis elbow, like golfer's elbow, is caused by tiny tears in the tissue in your elbow and forearm that don't have time to heal, leading to pain, soreness, stiffness, and difficulty gripping things.


Although athletes like tennis players, golfers, and baseball players can experience elbow pain, it's far more common amongst people who use their hands daily.


Read more about what causes tennis elbow here and the symptoms of tennis elbow.


Tennis elbow treatment 

There are many kinds of treatment for tennis elbow. All treatments aim to help reduce pain, swelling, and soreness and to ensure you keep your muscles strong and avoid stiffness.


Below are details about the treatment, exercises, and stretches for people experiencing elbow pain. Also, read more about the top tips for fixing tennis elbow.

Ice or heat

One of the first treatments to use is to ice your elbow and forearm after you experience pain. Tennis elbow is caused by inflammation of the tendons and ligaments after they are strained from repetitive movement.


Ice helps reduce blood flow and reduce inflammation and gives the tissue time to repair. It's recommended you ice your elbow for about ten minutes a few times per day, depending on the level of pain or frequency of movement. An ice pack is ideal, or you can use frozen peas wrapped in a towel.


Heat is another standard treatment recommended for people who experience chronic elbow pain. The heat helps muscles relax, giving them time to heal.


While you can ice your elbow throughout the day between activities, heat isn't recommended until you are finished with work for the day. A hot water bottle is something that you can use for this.


Try to avoid the repetitive activity that contributes to the pain or find a different way to do it.

Tennis elbow stretches for the forearm muscles

If you regularly experience tennis elbow or your pain is incredibly challenging, stretching is a great option to help reduce pain. Often, a physical therapist can provide specific stretches that are best for you, but some of the more general stretches that help reduce pain and stiffness include:


Palm & wrist stretch – Extend your arm straight with palm facing down toward the floor. Take your opposite hand and grab your fingers and pull them back toward your wrist, turn as you continue to stretch your hand toward the ground. Hold this for 10-20 seconds, and then flip your palm over to face up. Pull your finger, stretch back toward your wrist with your arm extended and hold for 10-20 seconds. Repeat several times or until you feel a stretch in your forearm.


Forearm curl to shoulder – With your arm at your side, slowly curl your forearm up until your hand hits your shoulder. Repeat for 10-20 seconds. You can use a weight to help if you feel strong enough.

Wrist lift & circles – Rotate your palm around your wrist for 10-20 seconds and switch directions.

Tennis elbow exercises

While it's recommended you avoid activities that contribute to elbow pain, doctors don't recommend stopping all activity entirely as it could make your muscles stiffen.


In addition to stretches, some exercises can be beneficial at relieving the pain of tennis elbow and strengthening the muscle to help avoid the pain becoming chronic.


Doctors, physios, physical or occupational therapists report that weighted exercises have successfully reduced distress on the outer elbow.


Below are some of the most common exercises:


Towel twist – Holding a rolled-up towel, grab either side with your hands and grip tightly to form a fist, then twist the towel in either direction like you're trying to wring water out of it. This kind of exercise helps address gripping issues and strengthens the muscles so they don't stiffen.


Hold a weight – Some find one of the most effective exercises is to raise your hand to a 90-degree angle while holding a weight in place for 10-20 seconds.


Reverse forearm and wrist curl – Prop your arm on a flat surface and - holding a weight in your hand - slowly bend and curl your forearm up toward your shoulder with the top of your palm facing upward. Repeat this for 10-20 seconds. Flip your hand over so your palm faces upward, and elbows bent, curl your forearm up toward your shoulder. Repeat this for 10-20 seconds. You can do the same thing with your wrist extensor stretch. Lay your forearm along a flat surface and curl your wrist upward for 10-20 seconds with a weight in your hand. Flip your palm over and bend your wrist in the other direction for 10-20 seconds.


Doctors or physical therapists find that the proper kind of stress or pressure can help the tears in the tissue get stronger and repair themselves.

MRI or X-ray

If your pain is not getting better, you may want to see a doctor and get an MRI or X-ray to determine the cause. For example, an X-ray can help identify if a tendon is inflamed or more severe damage to the tendon, muscle, or bone could require surgery.


Consider seeing a doctor if the pain has not improved for several months, even after icing and stretching.

Conclusion

This article outlined specific treatment for tennis elbow (lateral epicondylitis), including the best stretches and exercises that have been found to reduce pain and help reduce instances of more persistent tennis elbow.


For additional details about causes and treatment see our tennis elbow guide here.

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FAQ's

What exercise is best for tennis elbow (lateral epicondylitis)?

Avoiding movements that add to pain will allow the affected tissues to heal without re-injury. For example, most tendon pain patients improve when they take up a non-stressful activity such as swimming or cycling because these activities do not overload the affected arm and add to the pain.

What is the fastest way to cure tennis elbow?

There are many things you can do to reduce the pain and try to prevent it from happening again (Tendonitis). Physical Therapy has been shown to be one of the best ways to prevent reoccurrence.


Exercises you can do at home that will help you beat tennis elbow and prevent further injury are included in the Fix My Elbow exercise program (also for golfer's elbow).


Is stretching good for tennis elbow?

Yes, stretching the forearm is good for tennis elbow. This stretch is performed by pushing your palms together in front of you and holding this position for 30 seconds. Concentrate on keeping your elbows level with each other (don't let your right arm dip lower than your left).

How do you permanently cure tennis elbow?

In most cases, you can cure it yourself simply by avoiding specific movements that stress the affected muscles and following a physiotherapy (physical therapist) protocol of stretches and tennis elbow exercises like that offered in the Fix My Elbow programme as a form of treatment.