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Study Questions Support Bands for Tennis Elbow


WebMD Health News

Nov. 17, 1999 (Atlanta) -- A new study finds no 'support' for the use of forearm support bands in tennis players to reduce muscle fatigue, which is thought to be a contributing factor in developing tennis elbow. In fact, the researchers found that wearing these devices actually increased fatigue after an exercise session.

The study, which appears in the latest issue of The Journal of Orthopedic and Sports Physical Therapy, tested the muscle response of 50 healthy men and women before and after about 10 minutes of strenuous exercise, which included wrist extensions using a dumbbell. The subjects were tested both with and without forearm support bands.

The researchers measured muscle fatigue by looking at how much force study subjects exerted in extending their wrists, as well as the force of their grip -- and by electromyography, a test that measures muscle contractions after electrical stimulation to determine nerve and muscle function.

The results indicate forearm supports significantly affect muscle strength -- and not in a positive manner. In fact, peak grip strength dropped 18% after the exercise session when subjects weren't wearing a forearm support band, but even more -- 28% -- when they did. Peak strength during wrist extension was similarly affected: dropping 15% without the forearm support band and 26% with it. The electromyography found a 10% drop in power after exercise, whether the forearm support band was worn or not.

The researchers found the results surprising, primarily because clinicians have typically thought forearm support bands decrease muscle fatigue by limiting the amount of work the muscles must perform. But the authors of this study suggest there may be a good reason why just the opposite seems to be the case. Overworked muscles excrete waste products, which cause a drop in performance. And it's more difficult for the body to get rid of these waste products when muscles are compressed -- such as they would be inside of a forearm support.

Plus, when wearing the forearm support band, many more subjects complained of burning pain, which could have led to a general loss in motivation.

For tennis players and others suffering from tennis elbow, the real question is: what does it all mean? Do forearm supports work? Gail Freidhoff, a physical therapist and sports medicine specialist at University of Kentucky Sports Medicine in Lexington, says yes -- at least in her experience.

"The one thing I have found with the [forearm support band] ... is that patients can do the activity that causes them pain," she tells WebMD. "I have not had patients complain of the arm fatiguing or complain of not being able to do their activity, or a loss of strength."

In fact, Freidhoff says in her 17 years as a physical therapist she remembers only one patient with tennis elbow from actually playing tennis who had so little success with a brace that surgery was needed to correct the problem.

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