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A different way of thinking about healing tennis elbow

Tennis elbow, also known as lateral epicondylitis, is a condition characterized by pain and tenderness on the outer part of the elbow.

It is most commonly caused by overuse and repetitive motions of the forearm and wrist, such as gripping or lifting, leading to irritation of the tendon that attaches to the lateral epicondyle (bony prominence on the outside of the elbow).

This overuse can be caused by activities such as playing tennis, but also can happen to people who have jobs that require repetitive hand and arm movements like typing, manual labor like painting or plumbing, playing musical instruments, or assembly line work. The repetitive strain can cause small tears in the tendons and lead to pain and weakness in the affected arm. In some cases, an underlying injury or condition can also contribute to the development of tennis elbow.

Symptoms include pain and weakness in the forearm and pain that worsens with gripping or lifting objects. Activities that involve repetitive gripping or lifting, such as tennis, golf, and weightlifting, are common causes of tennis elbow.

Traditional treatment options include:

  1. Rest and ice: Resting the affected arm and applying ice to the elbow to reduce pain and inflammation.

  2. Physical therapy: A physical therapist can teach you exercises to stretch and strengthen the muscles in your arm and forearm.

  3. Medications: Over-the-counter medications can help reduce pain and inflammation.

  4. Orthotic devices: A brace or splint can help support the affected elbow and reduce stress on the tendons.

  5. Injections: If other treatments do not work, a doctor may recommend an injection of corticosteroids to reduce inflammation.

  6. Surgery: In severe cases, surgery may be needed to repair damaged tendons.

But what if this isn’t the best way to treat tennis elbow?

Many people will tell you they’ve tried these “traditional” treatments and still have elbow pain.

What if treatment needs to address more than the tendon and muscles of the forearm?

Healthcare providers are taught to check the joint above an injury and the joint below. That would have your shoulder and wrist checked out.

But, what if the nervous system is involved?

Some healthcare providers will address the local nerves in the arm, particularly the radial nerve, which is the closest in proximity to the lateral epicondyle.

But, what if the entire nervous system becomes hypersensitized and causes tendon irritation? Why would that even happen? Two words: Chronic Pain.

If you don’t address the effects of chronic pain on the brain and the nervous system, local problems like tennis elbow can never truly heal.

Would localized treatment to the tendon be doomed to fail?

Yes, they sure would! A bit of ultrasound or cold laser to the tendon isn’t going to reverse the biochemical changes chronic pain has caused in the brain. The research actually shows this.

Treatment needs to be more global, more holistic. Treatment is needed that addresses the hypersensitivity in the nervous system from day 1.

Tennis elbow can last for years if left untreated or just treated locally.

It is important to seek medical attention if you suspect you have tennis elbow to receive a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.

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