Lateral Epicondylitis or its more common name, ‘Tennis Elbow’ is a painful and debilitating condition which makes it difficult to do the simplest of things – hold a pen, shake hands, turn a steering wheel, open a door or carry a suitcase. The injury originally earned its name by afflicting several famous tennis players but it affects more than this segment of the population.

The discomfort and tenderness of tennis elbow that begins in the elbow and can radiate into the upper arm or down to the wrist is caused by repetitive movements involved in such activities as playing sports (tennis), raking, painting, lifting heavy objects, scrubbing floors, waiting tables, extended hours typing at computers, or doing massage for a living.

The Physiology of Tennis Elbow

Tennis elbow is an injury that can take weeks or months to heal. It is actually a slight tear or inflammation of the tendon (specifically the brevis tendon) that sits atop the outer protruding lateral bone of the elbow.

Continual motion can place excessive and unrelenting stress on this tendon, on wrist extensors, flexors, as well as on the muscles of the arm – supinators (broad muscle in the posterior area of the forearm) or pronators (The pronator teres and pronator quadratus muscles in the forearm responsible for keeping the palm of the hand naturally facing backwards).

Recognising Tennis Elbow

Tennis elbow results in hurt when extending or flexing the wrists or fingers or bending the elbow. Sometimes, even the slightest resistive pressure on the hands can trigger pain.

At first the pain from tennis elbow is minimal but begins to flare up usually two weeks after the injury. By then, the original tear of the tendon or the muscle damage has been considerably increased due to continuing the harming activity without realising the need for treatment.

Complications In Healing

During treatment, tennis elbow can easily be reinjured. Due to the V-shaped nature of the tendon tear, healing begins at the base of the V, which can result in feeling less pain before the whole tear has mended. This is especially true with athletes or others who make their living using their hands.   Also, pre-activity warm-ups (particularly in sports settings) can give the illusion that there is no pain, which can result in overuse of the unhealed tendons and muscles.

Activating this area before it is fully healed can result in scar tissue, which can adversely affect healing.

Support from Massage

Massage therapy can help support healing tennis elbow by using techniques that lengthen muscles, loosen scar tissue and provide pain relief.

Some techniques that can be used include:

  • A combination of light strokes and general cross fiber techniques applied around the elbow tendons may reduce tension and enhance tissue mobility.
  • Compression and stretching techniques that help spread contracted muscles
  • Soft tissue release techniques such as Swedish massage can support relaxation of muscles and the ability for greater range of motion in wrists and fingers.
  • Using a combination of deep massage and friction therapy helps break down scar tissue and encourage increased circulation in the affected area.
  • Healing of tennis elbow (especially for athletes whose injury is a result of sports injury) can be supported through sports massage therapy as it can improve circulation, increase relaxation and decrease pain through the release of serotonin (a natural pain-killer and mood enhancer).  Sports massage can also help improve flexibility and attend to muscle soreness as a preventative to further injury.

Tennis elbow requires a combination of professional attention, patience for the time it takes to heal as well as active participation in at-home exercises to help effect a full and gradual recovery from the injury.

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