How Can I Take Care of My Tennis Elbow?

Tennis elbow is an injury you can have even if you never pick up a racquet. It happens when the tendons that connect your forearm muscles to the bones in your elbow become inflamed.

A tennis backhand stroke is just one of many repetitive movements that can strain your muscles and tendons. Others include painting, carpentry, playing a musical instrument, or using heavy tools.

When you’re having an ongoing problem with your elbow, be sure to see your doctor so you can be diagnosed and get on the road to recovery. If you do have tennis elbow, she can come up with a treatment plan that’s best for you -- from pain relief to surgery.

Here are self-care tips to manage your pain, heal more quickly, and try to avoid the problem again.

Rest Your Elbow

This condition comes from repetition and overuse. As much as you can, rest your elbow.

If your injury actually came from tennis or another racquet sport, try a different kind of sport that’s not as tough on your elbow until you get better.

Work can be trickier, naturally, because you can’t always just walk away from the job like you can a hobby. Ask your boss for other tasks you can do while your elbow heals.

But as you rest, remember this mantra: “Absolute rest is rust.” Your tendons need some tension and motion. A couple of tips as you use -- but not overuse -- your arm:

  • Learn to use your shoulder and upper arm muscles to take the strain off your elbow.
  • Stick to the middle of your range of motion -- try not to bend or straighten your arm all the way.

Pain Management

Tennis elbow can be painful. Some ways to ease the pain include:

Over-the-counter pain relievers : Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve) can ease mild to moderate pain. These are called NSAIDs -- nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs -- and they reduce inflammation, too. Talk to your doctor about taking these, especially if you need them for weeks.

Ice: If you don’t like the idea of taking pills or want to take fewer, cold packs can also reduce swelling and pain. Put one on for about 15 minutes at a time several times a day.

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Braces, Splints, Gear, and Tools

Some of the following might help with your recovery:

Braces: Wearing a supportive brace on your forearm may also help take some pressure off the tendons in your elbow. Talk with your doctor or physical therapist about whether you should use one and the right kind of forearm brace for you.

Splints: You might ask your doctor about using a wrist splint at night. This can rest your muscles and tendons.

Sports gear: If tennis really is at the root of your tennis elbow, a stiffer racquet with looser strings may help once you’re up for some light playing again. A few other tips:

  • Work with a tennis pro to improve your swing so you don't overwork the elbow again. The same idea can apply to other racquet sports.
  • Make sure you have fresh, dry tennis balls. Wet or "dead" tennis balls can aggravate your elbow.
  • Finally, be sure you warm up and stretch your arms gently before playing racquet sports (or any sport, really).

Work tools: If on-the-job equipment is playing a role, you may need to try different tools or techniques. Ask your physical therapist for advice. A few other tool tips:

  • Hold tools with a looser grip; take some of the tension out of your hand, if you can.
  • Use hammers with padding to help absorb shock.
  • Get some training in different methods of doing your job.
  • Use power tools instead of hand tools if possible.

After Physical Therapy

One of the best ways to treat stubborn tennis elbow is with physical therapy. It can improve blood flow to the tendons, which will speed healing, too. A therapist may also teach you ways to change your tennis stroke or other activities that caused your elbow troubles.

Keep the momentum going even if your therapy program is finished. Once your elbow is pain-free and your backhand is better than ever, you should keep your muscles strong and flexible.

That’s because everyday activities don’t keep your muscles as strong and flexible as they should be to avoid sports injuries.

Ask about how to do some of the exercises yourself at home.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by William Blahd, MD on December 28, 2016

Sources

SOURCES:

Mayo Clinic: “Tennis elbow,” “Tennis elbow: Self-management.”

American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: “Tennis elbow.”

University of Rochester School of Medicine: “Tennis elbow.”

Cleveland Clinic: “Tennis Elbow (Lateral Epicondylitis),” “Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Medicines (NSAIDs).”

UpToDate:Patient education: Elbow tendinopathy (tennis and golf elbow) (Beyond the Basics).

Virginia Sportsmedicine Institute: “Elbow pain.”

Health Navigator (New Zealand): “Tennis Elbow.”

Hospital for Special Surgery: “Tennis Elbow: An Overview.”

Kaiser Permanente: “Elbow Pain: Tennis Elbow.”

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