Tennis elbow or as it is medically termed ‘lateral epicondylitis’ i.e. inflammation (itis) on the outer (lateral) bony point (epicondyle) of your elbow. Confusingly, this phrase is used as an umbrellla term for many pains arising around the elbow.
Hence, if people look up the condition on Dr Google and follow any advice, it is easy to, at best have little impact on the pain or at worst, significantly aggravate the pain, loss of power and use in your arm. I will endeavour to simplify the potential muddle.
Firstly it’s important to consider the time frame the problem has been going on for. If it is still in the angry acute 4-6 week period, treat it like a typical sprain; ice applications, trying to avoid aggravating movements and GENTLE stretches (and I mean really gentle) of your wrist within your limit of tolerable discomfort. Over the counter painkillers and anti-inflammatories as indicated by your pharmacist can also be helpful.
My visually restricted stickmen demonstrate some gentle stretches that are worth checking out:
Then place the backs of your hands on the table and straighten your elbows.
Feel the stretch on the underside of your forearm and then the top of your forearm respectively. Only straighten your elbow as far as is comfortable. Hold for 10 seconds and repeat through the day.
For those of you now saying to your screen, “Tried that, didn’t work” read on.
If you have reached the point where several weeks and months have passed and you’re beginning to wonder if the pain is ever going to go, a different approach to the condition would be prudent, in addition to that stated above. Typically the reason pain persists is due to something you are inadvertently doing or not doing which is preventing the elbow from settling.
Do you remember I have mentioned how we can recognise someone we know in the distance before we see their face because of their unique way of moving? No? Yes? Well marvellous if you do remember but if you are unfamiliar with this concept, our ‘uniqueness‘ occurs through having some specific muscle groups tighter and weaker than others. Meanwhile in comparison, other body parts are relatively stronger and more flexible. It is this anomaly of imbalance in our body that over time results in our inability to continue to accommodate this imbalance without complaint. Annoying, disappointing, frustrating and hard to accept but true my friends.
So what does this mean exactly?
Tennis elbow frequently arises because it is the point along a chain (your arm) which is made to work harder than its design is prepared for. This is a result of muscle tightness, weakness or joint stiffness further along the chain which has gone ignored or unnoticed for some considerable time. Then one day, changing the way you do something or doing a job that you haven’t done for a while or for longer than usual, causes the load on the elbow to be such that its ability to compensate for the extra work to end and it’s party time for the ‘lateral epicondylitis’. Depending on your definition of party this may not be a fun festive affair.
In a small number of cases someone playing tennis, who previously had NO HISTORY of arm, neck, shoulder, wrist or back problems, niggles, twinges or otherwise, can overstrain their forearm tendons which triggers a classic tennis elbow. However, these human specimens, who would have fascinated Darwin, are rarely to be found.
What’s to be done, my about to be Christmas revellers? For those with long-term problems try my stickmen suggestions to spot areas that are tight. If this is the case then regularly but gently stretch to reduce the differences between the left and right side of your body. Hold each position for 10 seconds.
Place your hand down the back of your neck.
Gently push that arm back with your opposite hand.
Lean forward onto your front leg.
Reach your arms back, drop shoulders down and back.
Keep your wrists and fingers straight.
Whether you are 5 days or 5 months plus into pain, also consider the following:
Look at how you use your mouse, hold the steering wheel, bring a cup to your mouth, hang out the washing. Do you hold your arms like chicken wings (sad stickman) or do you keep your elbows in relative your hands (happy stickman)? Keeping your arms aligned to the latter puts considerably less strain through your arms and hence your elbow.
If you find that none of the above helps you are better trying to find a treatment that works, sooner rather than later. Waiting in the hope that things will improve can simply lead to greater imbalances as the pain further impairs your movements. Please feel free to contact me if you wish to talk through your specific problems and I will happily go through your options with you.
Wishing you all a very happy, stretchy, elbows in, Christmas. See you all in 2017!