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Tennis Elbow

Tennis Elbow Treatment

Tennis Elbow Treatment

Tennis elbow, or lateral epicondylitis, is a result of repetitive activities that cause the tendons in your elbow to become overloaded. You may have heard of tennis elbow and shrugged it off. “I barely ever play tennis,” you say, “I’m not at risk.” Wrong. In fact, 95% of those who suffer from tennis elbow are not tennis players at all. The condition got its name because the affected muscles are similar to those that one would use when swinging a tennis racket. Tennis elbow can not only be annoying but also worrisome as your livelihood may depend on performing motions that put you at risk for the condition. If you’re experiencing discomfort in your elbow, it’s important to first locate the source and reason for the pain so that it can be treated. 

What Causes Tennis Elbow?

As we covered above, tennis elbow is the result of repetitive movements similar to swinging a tennis racket. This overuse causes inflammation of the muscles and tendons that extend to the wrist and can be a real nuisance.

The name “tennis elbow” is misleading in that most people afflicted by tennis elbow don’t play tennis at all. Many activities can lead to tennis elbow, from playing similar sports like pickleball to sitting at a desk all day with incorrect posture. Those with manual jobs, such as plumbers or construction workers, are more susceptible to tennis elbow as their work may require them to repeatedly perform movements that cause wear on the elbow tendons. The pain can interfere with everyday activities and is usually felt on the outside of the elbow, right where it meets the forearm.

What are the Symptoms of Tennis Elbow?

Symptoms of tennis elbow can come on suddenly. However, it is more common for symptoms of tennis elbow to develop gradually over a period of weeks or months because of repetitive movement. 

Symptoms may include:

  • Pain that radiates into your forearm and wrist
  • Difficulty doing common tasks like turning a doorknob
  • Difficulty with gripping/grasping
  • Weakness in the forearm, wrist, or hand

When Should I Seek Treatment for Tennis Elbow?

It’s a good idea to seek out treatment if you’re experiencing elbow pain that has lasted for more than a few days. Symptoms of tennis elbow can include pain when you extend the elbow or lift up the wrist, swelling where the tendons attach, feelings of heat or tingling in the hands, or weakness in the arm. At-home remedies such as icing the irritated area may help to control short-term pain symptoms although that is likely not enough to address the root of the issue. Seeking physical therapy for your tennis elbow is the most efficient way to ensure full recovery and prevent the risk of recurring pain.

How Can Physical Therapy Help With Tennis Elbow?

When you come in to see a physical therapist for tennis elbow, they’ll first locate the source of your pain and determine the severity. They’ll work with you to perform stretching exercises specific to your pain, customizing treatments that consider your unique body and incorporate any daily tasks or occupational activities that you frequently perform. They may also use techniques such as:

  • Strengthening Exercises to target weakened areas along your arm that may be contributing to pain symptoms.
  • Manual Therapy to reduce pain and increase range of motion through the use of skilled, hands-on techniques.
  • Movement Education to improve form while performing daily activities.

While there are other tennis elbow treatment methods available, physical therapy for tennis elbow can be the best solution for a personalized plan of care that incorporates your work/daily duties into recovery. Your PT will work the affected muscles and prescribe strengthening/stretching exercises so that the problem doesn’t come back. They’ll also help to strengthen secondary areas of the body, such as weakened forearm muscles or poor posture, that may be contributing to your tennis elbow pain. As you work one-on-one with your physical therapist, they will ensure that they uncover the root of your issue and correct it for the long-term.

Tennis elbow recovery time will depend on the severity of your issue but generally, you’ll see an improvement pretty quickly after beginning treatment. With regular physical therapy for tennis elbow treatments, your injury will likely be fully recovered after 8-10 weeks.

Physical therapists can provide the necessary tools to prevent and/or treat tennis elbow, allowing you to return to your favorite activities pain-free and stronger than ever.

What are the Typical Treatments for Tennis Elbow?

If you’ve had tennis elbow, it’s important that you prevent re-injury if the tendons have not healed properly or if your muscle strength is weak, or if joint mobility is lessened. Returning to activities or sports before you’ve fully healed may result in chronic pain or put you at risk for re-injury. That’s why it’s important to have a physical therapist to help you determine the best plan for your return to pain-free activities and sports.

Here are some exercises and stretches that we’ve found effective at treating tennis elbow:

Wrist Stretch

  1. Extend your arm in front of your body with your elbow straight and your palm down. 
  2. Lightly push your hand downwards with your unaffected hand until a stretch is felt in the wrist or forearm area. 

Hold this position for 30 seconds before releasing it and complete 2 -3 repetitions. Do this 5 x daily. 

Wrist Isometrics

  1. Sit upright with your arm resting on a table and your palm hanging off the edge. 
  2. With your palm facing downwards, lift the back of your hand towards the sky. 
  3. Using your other wrist, match the pressure on the back of the hand lifting towards the sky, preferably not allowing the wrist to move. Apply enough pressure to feel a strong muscle contraction in the forearm on the table, but not so much you are in pain. 

Hold this for 45 – 60 seconds before relaxing and completing 2 -3 reps. Do this a couple of times a day. 

Extension Eccentrics

  1. Begin with your arm comfortably resting on a table and your downward-facing palm hanging off the edge. 
  2. Move your wrist upwards towards you. 
  3. Extend the wrist, then place a 1lb can of soup or beans in the hand with your palm facing down. Focus on slowly lowering the wrist with the weight in it. 
  4. Remove the weight from the hand when it’s fully flexed in the bottom position and repeat.

Perform three sets of 10 repetitions of the eccentrics each day. 

Supination Eccentrics

  1. Start with your arm and palm resting comfortably on a table. 
  2. Rotate your forearm so that your palm is facing upward and make a fist with your hand. 
  3. Using your unaffected hand, apply force to the affected fist as you attempt to turn the palm downward. 
  4. Over a duration of about 3 seconds, slowly let the unaffected side “win” as the forearm rotates inwards. 

Before you try any of these exercises, it’s important to get treatment as early as possible with a physical therapist. Left untreated, tennis elbow may become chronic and last for extended periods of time. This is especially true if you only address the pain and don’t address the muscle weakness and repetitive activities that may have led to your condition originally. 

We hope you found this information helpful — and — if you are experiencing tennis elbow, please reach out to us. We’ll look forward to helping you get back to your normal activities without pain and without risk of re-injury.

Jessica Jones

Physical Therapist

Jessica recently moved to Seattle from Boston, MA and is excited to join the Therapydia team. Her treatment experience includes orthopedics, sports medicine, pediatrics, and vestibular therapy. Jessica received her Doctorate in Physical Therapy from Northeastern University in Boston, MA in 2016. She has completed the Pediatric Physical Therapy Residency at Boston Children’s Hospital and is in the process of completing a Comprehensive Vestibular Rehabilitation certification. Jessica believes in empowering and inspiring patients to take control of their health through education, movement, and exercise. She enjoys treating patients of all ages and levels while utilizing soft tissue techniques, neuromuscular re-education, balance training as well as therapeutic exercise. In her free time, Jessica enjoys yoga, dancing, kayaking, and hiking with her dog!


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