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What is the Best Tennis Elbow Treatment?

Updated on November 21, 2016
Kim Clijsters playing at the Australian Open in 2012.  Now retired from Professional Tennis, the Belgian player is a former world No. 1 in both singles and doubles.  With her powerful physique and strong baseline game, Clijsters remains a tennis icon
Kim Clijsters playing at the Australian Open in 2012. Now retired from Professional Tennis, the Belgian player is a former world No. 1 in both singles and doubles. With her powerful physique and strong baseline game, Clijsters remains a tennis icon | Source

This article is written entirely from the perspective of a long time player of racquet sports, I have over three decades experience of playing tennis and badminton and have suffered from tennis elbow myself, as well as having known many others who have experienced the problem. I am not a doctor, or a medic, however, just an experienced tennis player.

In this article, I basically tell you which treatments work best, based on my own personal experience, as well as what I have learned from other players and friends that I've known in teams and clubs over the years.

It goes without saying that if you believe that you have a persistent medical problem, you should seek the advice of a medical professional.

All I know is what has worked as the best tennis elbow treatment for me and others, and the answers may surprise some people.

Now that we have got that cleared up, let's briefly examine what tennis elbow actually is.

What is Tennis Elbow?

Tennis elbow is the common name for a form of tendinitis that affects the elbow and arm.

The job of tendons is to attach muscle to bone. Over time, repetitive activities, such as tightly gripping a tennis racquet when swinging for a shot, can eventually cause microscopic tears in the tendon tissue.

It most commonly affects people between the ages of 35 and 65.

Did You Know?

  • It has been estimated that between 1 and 3 percent of people in the UK are suffering from tennis elbow at any one time.
  • Around 5 in 1,000 British people go to see their doctor annually due to problems with tennis elbow.

Classic Symptoms of Tennis Elbow

Pain and tenderness around the bony knob on the outside of the elbow is the tell-tale sign of tennis elbow (note that it is the outside of the elbow that is generally affected, there is another condition that affects the inside of the elbow, which is called golf elbow).

The pain can shoot out from the elbow across the forearm, and is sometimes experienced as a burning sensation.

Although the pain tends to be focused on the elbow and arm, discomfort can also be experienced in the hand or wrist sometimes too, especially when lifting or gripping things.

Rafael "Rafa" Nadal Parera is widely regarded as one of the finest clay court players in the history of tennis.  His outstanding record has led to the Spaniard being called the: "King of Clay".
Rafael "Rafa" Nadal Parera is widely regarded as one of the finest clay court players in the history of tennis. His outstanding record has led to the Spaniard being called the: "King of Clay". | Source

Do You Only Get The Condition From Playing Racquet Sports?

No. People get it from racquet games such as tennis, squash, racquetball, badminton, but also other sports such as fencing and weightlifting.

Other repetitive pursuits completely unrelated to sports can also cause the condition, such as carpentry, knitting, typing, and also some forms of yard work like raking.

The bottom line is that you can potentially acquire the condition from any pursuit that involves gripping something tightly and repetitive movement.

Although tennis elbow is associated purely with racket sports by many people, any repeated task which involves gripping tightly and repetitive movement can cause the condition, including certain non-racket sports and non-sporting tasks.
Although tennis elbow is associated purely with racket sports by many people, any repeated task which involves gripping tightly and repetitive movement can cause the condition, including certain non-racket sports and non-sporting tasks. | Source

Main Treatments To Consider

#1 Ice the elbow.

Icing will reduce the pain and swelling. My medical friends have recommended to me that the ice is used for 15-30 minute sessions every 3 or 4 hours for a few days, or until the pain is gone.

#2 Take Painkillers and Anti-Inflammatory Drugs Such as Ibuprofen

Ibuprofen, aspirin, and naproxen can also help to reduce pain and swelling in the short term. These drugs must be handled with care, however, as they can cause side effects. They are also only a short term solution, good for dealing with the pain and discomfort during or after a tennis match, but certainly not to be used indefinitely.

#3 Rest Your Arm

Certainly resting my arm has helped in my experience. It can take weeks, however, and that can be very frustrating, if you are a keen tennis player. Plus once you are well again, you have to spend time re-learning your game and getting your fitness back (without antagonizing your arm/elbow again!)

The BandIT Therapeutic Forearm Band has been designed to provide relief and help to prevent the pain associated with tennis elbow, as well as give all round support to the forearm.
The BandIT Therapeutic Forearm Band has been designed to provide relief and help to prevent the pain associated with tennis elbow, as well as give all round support to the forearm.

#4 Buy an Elbow Strap

This reduces the strain on the injured tendons, which both relieves an existing condition and reduces the chances of it occurring, or getting worse.

There many different straps and bands out there to choose from, I myself am a big fan of the BandIT Therapeutic Forearm Band and have found it a great help.

But there are also plenty of other brands and similar products out there to choose from.

I didn't believe that the flew bar would have much effect until I tried one out.  I borrowed one from a friend and was so impressed, I ordered my own online the next day.  The exercises are short but effective in my experience.
I didn't believe that the flew bar would have much effect until I tried one out. I borrowed one from a friend and was so impressed, I ordered my own online the next day. The exercises are short but effective in my experience.

#5 Buy a Flex Bar and Do Exercises

There's been a lot of research on the use of physical exercises to treat tennis elbow in recent years. As a result of the research, there are now hand exercisers that can be bought for a relatively low cost. These can be very effective, in my experience at strengthening the tendons.

The exercises involve gripping the ends of a rubber tube with both hands, with it held in a verticle position. The tube is twisted, and then held out horizontally, the tube is allowed to resume its untwisted state with your hand still gripping it. (See video below)

This Thera-Band FlexBar hand exerciser is one of the most popular versions on the market and gives cost effective relief in my experience.

I prefer using the Flexbar, but there are also some exercises that you can do without any equipment. Typically, your other hand supplies the resistance needed when exercising to strengthen the tendons in your sore arm. (See video below)

# 6 Surgery

I have no direct experience of surgery and I am reluctant to comment on medical matters, so I really can't go into too much detail on this treatment. If you try the above treatments and your tennis elbow doesn't go away after a period of time, or your symptoms are not those of tennis elbow, then I would certainly recommend that you seek medical advice.

Tommy Haas serving at the Australian Open in Melbourne 2012.  The  German-American professional tennis player is considered by many to be the best player to have never have won a Grand Slam tournament, mainly due to his history of injuries.
Tommy Haas serving at the Australian Open in Melbourne 2012. The German-American professional tennis player is considered by many to be the best player to have never have won a Grand Slam tournament, mainly due to his history of injuries. | Source

Conclusions

Below are my own personal conclusions that I've formed from experience.

  • In the immediate aftermath of a tennis match, I think icing the elbow and using painkillers/anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen can play a role in relieving the pain.
  • Buy a flex bar and do the exercises, I was a skeptic, it's hard to believe that the bar can make much differences, but it worked amazingly well for me, and I know others who were equally astounded by the benefits.
  • Wear an elbow strap. Not only does it relieve the strain, pain and stress, it can actually prevent tennis elbow developing, or getting worse.
  • If all else fails, or your doctor says your condition is something other than tennis elbow and requires intervention, you may need to resort to surgery. Seek medical advice.

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    • my_girl_sara profile image

      Cynthia Lyerly 3 years ago from Georgia

      I also recommend taking extra vitamin C. It really works!