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Hand Therapists Provide Treatment Advice for Tennis Elbow

By Sheila Yakobina, MA, OTR/L, CHT and Stephanie Yakobina, MA, OTR/L, CHT

Not Just for Tennis Players

This article offers specialized tips to help individuals who are experiencing tennis elbow symptoms.  Though tennis elbow is seen in approximately one-third of the tennis population, it is even more prevalent outside of the sport.  The majority of people treated for tennis elbow in hand therapy get it from repetitive wrist extension such as overuse when keyboarding, gardening, or golfing.

So, What is Tennis Elbow?

Tennis elbow is the irritation of the tendon as it inserts into the bone on the elbow.  The tendons that are most often to blame are the tendons that pull the wrist back into extension.  Individuals suffering from tennis elbow may report that they have pain at the outer side of the elbow performing activities using the hand or wrist.  As a result, daily activities such as typing, ironing, vacuuming, writing, or even lifting a coffee cup may become too painful to perform.

How is it Treated?

Unfortunately, by the time most people are treated in hand therapy, the pain has become so excruciating that it interferes with their everyday activities.  We initially recommend a program of rest and advise patients to follow these “Do’s and Don’ts” guidelines:

  • Consider wearing a tennis elbow band during waking hours. If you play tennis, wear a counterforce brace while playing your match. The counterforce brace gives external support to the involved muscles and relieves stress on the area.
  • Consider wearing a splint that immobilizes your wrist 24 hours a day.
  • Always pick up objects with the palm of your hand facing up – do not pick up objects with the palm of your hand facing down.
  • Do not pick up objects that are heavier than 2 pounds such as a coffee mug (a gallon of milk weighs 8 pounds).
  • Do not perform heavy & repetitive grasping activities such as hammering, painting, wringing washcloths, filing, etc.
  • Take frequent rest breaks and/or alter tasks every 15 minutes.
  • Initially, ice will feel better on an inflamed tendon. However, when the symptoms become more chronic, consider applying heat (hot pack, heating pad) at least 2 times a day for 10-15 minutes.
  • And most importantly, if you are performing an activity and you begin experiencing pain at your elbow – STOP THE ACTIVITY – do not try to work through the pain! Your body is telling you that you are reinjuring the tendon.

Treatment for tennis elbow involves a combination of rest, change of activity, heat/ice, massage and a rehabilitation program that will include instruction in appropriate stretching and strengthening exercises.  If you have any questions, please feel free to contact our hand therapy clinic at Proliance Sports Therapy & Rehabilitation in Issaquah at 425-313-3055.