If you're struggling with tennis elbow pain, this is the place for you to start!
By Dr. Patrick Chandler, PT, DPT, CF-L1, CSCS
In order to fix a problem, usually it helps to understand the problem in the first place. I think the best place to start would be defining the issue at hand! What is Tennis Elbow? Tennis elbow, also known as lateral epicondylitis, is a common overuse injury that occurs at the extensor tendons of the forearm. The injury is commonly deemed a “tendinopathy” or a thickening of the tendon. The medical name lateral epicondylitis is due in part to the region of the arm that this tendinopathy occurs which is the lateral epicondyle of the humerus, the outside part of your elbow.
Seems pretty simple so far, right?
How did this happen to me?
You might think, “I’ve never even played tennis or haven’t played in years, how did I get tennis elbow?!?!". The forearm extensor muscle group is not only active when hitting the perfect backspin backhand lob shot that barely skims over the net to win that singles match you’ve been playing, but it’s also highly active when simply gripping commonly used items such as tools, pens, or weights.
Not sure if you’ve got “Tennis Elbow”? Try this test!
Place the palm of your left hand over the backside of your right forearm. Without moving your wrist at all, make a fist, and see what you feel. You should feel a small but noticeable muscle contraction.
Okay now let's say you aren’t even grasping tools or weight or haven’t written anything with a pencil since 2009. Most often our workstations place our wrists in a position that has our wrists slightly cocked to the point this muscle is activated much more than it should be!
Are you checking your work station right now? You should be! Heck as I am writing this very blog right now I can tell you I am not practicing what I preach! If this sounds like you then the 3 exercises we will go over can only help you to the degree that you fix the root cause of your problem- in this case, a bad workstation posture.
So now what?
You now know some reasons for tennis elbow and probably have an idea of what you did to get this nagging and painful injury in the first place. So how do you fix it? The following 3 exercises will have you headed in the right direction.
Exercise 1: Forearm Smash with Lacrosse Ball
Equipment Required: 1 lacrosse ball
Take a lacrosse ball and roll it along your forearm between your elbow and wrist. Place a decent amount of pressure on the ball so you can feel it into the “meaty” portion of your arm. You will quickly find “trigger points” or spots in the muscle that have limited blood flow and feel less than comfortable when that ball rolls over it. GOOD. You have found the target area. Keep the ball in that zone and firmly twist to tack the ball in position and hold. You might feel some discomfort but you should still be able to breathe (you won’t last long if you don’t) and hold a conversation (less critical but still a good sign you’re not pushing too hard). Hold this for about 30 seconds and repeat 2-3x or until that spot feels less tender!
Exercise 2: Self Cross-Friction Mobilization
Equipment required: 1 Hand
You most likely already know the tender spot on your elbow! Your goal is to find that and perform a massage to the tendon in order to get the tissue to initiate a proper healing response. Find the bone on the outside of your elbow, place your thumb just toward your wrist and you most likely have found that tendon. Place a good amount of pressure on that tendon and glide down or away like you are plucking a guitar string. Plucking NOT strumming! There is a key difference between the two! Only pluck one direction and repeat for 50 repetitions!
Exercise 3: Wrist Extension Eccentrics
Equipment required: 1 small weight or 1 can food item
Rest your forearm on a table with your hand holding weight off of the edge. Use your opposite hand (the one not holding a weight) to lift your wrist up while keeping your forearm on the table. Slowly lower the weight down counting to 5 in your head (or out loud). Repeat this 15 times. Oh, and also do this for 3 sets and 2 times per day!
This blog is informative and based on scientific research as well as clinical practice methods but DOES NOT substitute for actual medical care! If you've tried these exercises and still aren't better, you are a good fit for our practice. Click the “Inquire Now” button in the top right corner of this page or call our office at 913-396-9726 to talk with me or one of our other doctors of physical therapy!