The best way to relieve tennis elbow is to stop doing anything that irritates your arm — a simple step for the weekend tennis player, but not as easy for the manual laborer, office worker, or professional athlete.
The most effective conventional and alternative treatments for tennis elbow have the same basic premise: Rest the arm until the pain disappears, then massage to relieve stress and tension in the muscles, and exercise to strengthen the area and prevent re-injury. If you must go back to whatever caused the problem in the first place, be sure to warm up your arm for at least 5 to 10 minutes with gentle stretching and movement before starting any activity. Take frequent breaks.
Conventional medicine offers an assortment of treatments for tennis elbow, from drug injections to surgery, but the pain will never go away completely unless you stop stressing the joint. Re-injury is inevitable without adequate rest.
For most mild to moderate cases of tennis elbow, aspirin or ibuprofen will help address the inflammation and the pain while you are resting the injury, and then you can follow up with exercise and massage to speed healing.
For stubborn cases of tennis elbow your doctor may advise corticosteroid injections, which dramatically reduce inflammation, but they cannot be used long-term because of potentially damaging side effects. Another attractive option for many sufferers, especially those who prefer to not ingest medication orally, is the application of an appropriate and effective topical anti-inflammatory such as Penetrex.
If rest, anti-inflammatory medications, and a stretching routine fail to cure your tennis elbow, you may have to consider surgery, though this form of treatment is rare (fewer than 3 percent of patients). One procedure is for the tendon to be cut loose from the epicondyle, the rounded bump at the end of the bone, which eliminates stress on the tendon but renders the muscle useless. Another surgical technique involves removing so-called granulated tissue in the tendon and repairing tears.
Even after you feel you have overcome a case of tennis elbow, be sure to continue babying your arm. Always warm up your arm for 5 to 10 minutes before starting any activity involving your elbow. And if you develop severe pain after use anyway, pack your arm in ice for 15 to 20 minutes and call your doctor.
To prevent tennis elbow:
- Lift objects with your palm facing your body.
- Try strengthening exercises with hand weights. With your elbow cocked and your palm down, repeatedly bend your wrist. Stop if you feel any pain.
- Stretch relevant muscles before beginning a possibly stressful activity by grasping the top part of your fingers and gently but firmly pulling them back toward your body. Keep your arm fully extended and your palm facing outward.