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Study Questions Support Bands for Tennis Elbow

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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.

"They certainly don't cure this condition; they're not panaceas" says Bob Stanton, MD, a sports medicine specialist in Ridgefield, Conn. "But I've had enough patients over 20-something years to think they have some benefit." The main benefit, Stanton tells WebMD, is pain relief -- not relief of fatigue.

"We're definitely not saying they're not effective. We've seen them work clinically," one of the study authors, Lt. Shane L. Koppenhaver, MPT, of the DeWitt Army Community Hospital in Ft. Belvoir, Va., tells WebMD. "It basically means [the study] doesn't support the theory that forearm supports work by decreasing muscle fatigue."

That said, Koppenhaver cautions that the study didn't look at the specific effect the braces might have while playing tennis -- but rather how they performed during an exercise regimen more like weight-lifting. He acknowledges it's possible that under normal tennis playing conditions the muscles might have more time to recover between strokes -- and that would mean less fatigue.

Vital Information:

  • Forearm support bands are worn by tennis players to prevent muscle fatigue because muscle fatigue is believed to contribute to tennis elbow.
  • A new study shows that the forearm support bands actually increase muscle fatigue after an exercise session.
  • Two experts comment that the supports still offer an important benefit because they provide pain relief for patients.

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