Physical Therapy For Tennis Elbow

May 21st, 2018

Physical therapy has a large range of benefits, including pre-surgery and post-surgery rehabilitation, improving mobility after injuries, and relieving pain. One of the many conditions that physical therapy can help with is tennis elbow – a common injury, which is also known as tendonitis. Below is an outline of what tennis elbow is and how physical therapy for tennis elbow is beneficial.

What is tennis elbow?

Tennis elbow is the common term for the pain that happens when the tendons on the outer side of your elbow are overworked due to repeated use. It's also common known as "lateral epicondylitis" and it's mainly caused by inflammation of the foreman muscle that is it attached to the elbow. Typically tennis elbow is the result of really repetitive movements such as in tennis, racketball, and even in jobs like painting and construction. One thing to note is that although the condition has ‘tennis’ in its name, the condition doesn’t only affect athletes. Anyone involved in any activity that involves repeatedly moving your wrist and arm could be affected by this condition.

What are the causes and symptoms of the tennis elbow?

Surprisingly, if you’re using your joints and muscles ineffectively, even some everyday activities - like chopping up ingredients for cooking, prolonged usage of a computer mouse, using tools, or even painting, can cause a tennis elbow. Common symptoms include pain and weakness on the outside of your elbow, which can sometimes radiate to your wrist and forearm.

How can physical therapy help with tennis elbow?

Physical therapy can be a huge help for tennis elbow – not only improving the motion of the joint, but also, in time, reducing and eventually eliminating the pain of the injury. Your physical therapist will work with you to identify why your injury might have happened, and work out some exercises that can help you to use your joints more effectively, and take the strain off them.

Exercises they might suggest are aimed at improving blood flow to the tendons, which typically receive much less oxygen than muscles around them, or might be focused on several other things:

  • Exercises that involve stretching and strengthening of the muscles;
  • Massaging using essential oils or ice to reduce inflammation;
  • Stimulating the muscles to improve blood flow;
  • Using straps or braces to provide additional support until your elbow has healed sufficiently.

What are some physical therapy exercises for tennis elbow?

Your physical therapist will make a plan that works specifically for you, but here are a few exercises which they might suggest:

  • Wrist extension – take a light dumbbell (two pounds or less) and hold it in your injured hand, palm facing down. Sit down and rest your injured elbow on your knee, with your wrist extended outward. Curl your wrist slightly downward and back up again.
  • Wrist flexion – this is similar to a wrist extension, except that you curl the wrist of your injured arm upward and back down to its normal position. Repeat the movement around ten times carefully, and stop once you feel your arm getting weak.
  • Towel twists – Sit down on a chair, and keep your shoulders relaxed. Hold a towel with both hands, and twist it as you would to wring water off a wet towel. Repeat this movement ten times in one direction, and ten times in the other.

What are some other exercises I can do to help?

Here a few exercises that will help you with aleviating some of the pain from tennis elbow. Note: we recommend visiting your physical therapist because they will know how to use physical therapy for tennis elbow best. Your physical therapist will diagnose your specific condition and give you specific exercises to your current condition. But nonetheless these exercises can help:

  • First clench - Take your foreman and it flat against a surface (like a table or desk) and with a small towel rolled in your hand; squeeze your hand.
  • Finger Stretch - Take a rubber band and touch your fingers to your thumb; then place the rubber band around them and your thumb. Now gently open your fingers and thumb all the way you can and then close them.
  • Ball Squeeze - Take a tennis ball and or any soft ball and place in your hand. The next step is to squeeze the ball slowly and release it.
  • Wrist Stretch - Place your arm straight out so your elbow is straight and not bent. Palm up. Then take your other hand and stretch the fingers of the arm that is straight. Hold for about 10 seconds and then repeat as necessary. We recommend doing this exercise 2-4 times.
  • Wrist Stretch #2 - This stretch is very similar to one above but instead of your palms being face up, they should be faced down. Same thing as before, take your other hand (not the stretched out one) and gently pull back on your fingers until you feel a good stretch and then let it go slowly. Do this 3-5 times.
  • Wrist Turn - Take your arm and bend it so it's at a 90 degree angle. Now take your hand and turn your hand so that your palm faces upward. Then slowly turn your hand counter-clock wise until you feel a nice stretch. Do this 3-5 times.

Why physical therapy for tennis elbow?

With physical therapy, you can improve the strength and flexibility of the muscles in your foreman which means the likely-hood of being bothered by tennis elbow again are slim. Similarly, physical therapy for tennis elbow can help improve the blood flow to the muscles in your foreman which will help supply essential blood and oxygen to the muscles as fast as possible.

Pain Relief

If you are looking for pain relief before you visit a physical therapist we have a few suggestions to help ease the pain.

  • ice packs - the normal ice packs you buy at your local market will work. Take the ice pack and rest it on the muscles of the forearm. The coldness of the ice will help ease the pain.
  • light massages - gently massaging the muscles in your foreman will help alleivate some of the pain from tennis elbow. Also massages help to improve the blood flow to your muscles which will help with circulation.
  • muscle stimulators - this is similar to the light massages; muscle stimulators can help blood flow to your muscles in your foreman. Blood flow is essential for healing because it brings new fresh oxygen in the blood.

These may work for you, but of course, as with any injury, it’s a good idea to visit a physical therapist to get a specific plan, tailored for your injury, as part of a complete plan. If you want to discuss options for your specific situation and want to see what physical therapy for tennis elbow would like for your specific situation, please visit our clinic page.

Can PT help tennis elbow?

Of course, we cannot say that physical therapy is always the answer to healing tennis elbow. Whether physical therapy will help you is highly dependent on your specific injury or condition. Essentially there are too many factors to consider but when you get a physical therapy assessment, they can accurately diagnose the issue and give you a specific form of treatment that will best suite your needs. For example, if your livelihood depends on your physical abilities ie. a professional athlete then you may want to consider faster solutions. But if for example, you have picked up playing tennis or racketball and you feel tennis elbow coming on, then you may want to consider slower less expensive options, like physical therapy.

However, yes absolutely, PT can definitely help with tennis elbow. The ultimate goal is to gain strength and and flexibility in your arm. Specifically, we want to increase the strength and flexibility in your forearm muscles. The increased strength and flexibility of your muscles will improve the blood flow to the tendons in your forearm's which typically don't receive the same level of oxygen that muscles receive. This improved blood flow, makes it easier for your arm to heal and build strength so your don't feel tennis elbow ever again.

What is the best treatment for tennis elbow?

Getting an accurate diagnosis by a medical professional is going to be the best way to get an understanding of what the best treatment is going to be for your specific situation. There are various factors that come into play in regard to diagnosing and treating tennis elbow which is why we leave it to the professionals to diagnosis and prescribe an accurate form of treatment for tennis elbow.

How does it take to recover from tennis elbow?

It completely depends on what kind of form of treatment your medical progression or physical therapist provides. For example, if you have a really bad case of tennis elbow, your physical therapist may suggest more aggressive treatment which in case may cut the time to recover.

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