Why You Need the Proper Elbow Support for Tennis Elbow Pains
Contrary to the common name, tennis elbow doesn’t just affect tennis players, or even athletes. Anyone who subjects their arms, especially their elbow joint, to repetitive motions can develop tennis elbow—including plumbers, painters, carpenters, butchers, auto workers, cooks and many other professions. Luckily, tennis elbow often gets better on its own with rest and recovery, and there are plenty of ways to mitigate the pain in the meantime. Read on to find out what symptoms to look for and what treatments to try.
Symptoms of Tennis Elbow
Tennis elbow, officially called lateral epicondylitis, is a classic repetitive stress injury caused by overuse of the elbow joint. It occurs when the tendons that join the forearm muscles on the outside of the elbow become inflamed, resulting in pain and compromised mobility. The tendon that usually becomes inflamed is called the Extensor Carpi Radialis Brevis (ECRB), although other tendons may be involved as well.
The symptoms of tennis elbow develop gradually over time, starting out mild and eventually becoming more severe. Signs of tennis elbow include pain or burning on the outer part of your elbow and weak grip strength. Tennis elbow usually occurs in your dominant arm (the limb you use more), but both arms can develop the condition.
Certain factors do increase your odds of developing tennis elbow. Most people who have tennis elbow are between the ages of 30 and 50, though the condition can occur at any age. Of course, people who play racquet sports (not just tennis!) are more likely to develop tennis elbow. People in the occupations mentioned above, who engage in repetitive motions that put stress on their elbow tendons, are also at greater risk of developing tennis elbow.
Treating Tennis Elbow
According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS), between 80-95 percent of patients with tennis elbow are able to recover without resorting to surgical options. If you do have tennis elbow, it’s very likely that you’ll be able to heal without surgery. Here are some treatments that your doctor may recommend:
Rest and Recovery
Tennis elbow is an overuse injury, so the first step to getting better is to stop using your elbows and put as little stress on those tendons as possible. You’ll need to stop playing sports for at least several weeks, and if your tennis elbow was caused by your occupation, you’ll need to stop lifting heavy objects and other activities that put pressure on your elbow. Applying ice as you rest can also help decrease inflammation and swelling.
There are several types of elbow supports that can benefit your strained elbow. Tennis elbow braces are centered on the back of your forearm and help rest the muscles and tendons. Other adjustable elbow supports cover the entire elbow and can help restrict your movement if you’re prone to using the injured limb without thinking. You can also look into compression elbow sleeves to provide lightweight, breathable compression support. Your doctor might even recommend that you wear an athletic elbow brace after recovery to help keep yourself from injuring it again.
Over-the-Counter Pain Relievers
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as aspirin or ibuprofen, can reduce pain and swelling. You can pick these up at your local drug store or grocery store. While the relief will be temporary, if your tendon flares up or the pain suddenly gets worse, NSAIDs can relieve your symptoms for a while.
If you’re in a lot of chronic pain and over-the-counter medications aren’t helping, your doctor might recommend a steroid injection. Steroids such as cortisone have fast-acting anti-inflammatory properties and can quickly relieve your pain.
Some basic exercises and stretches have been shown to help with tennis elbow. A physical therapist can show you how to do these exercises properly. Some stretches they might recommend are a downward wrist stretch, a wrist curl, an elbow curl, a forearm pull, a forearm twist and a grip stamina-building exercise.
If your tennis elbow was caused by playing sports, you might want to get your equipment investigated. AAOS says that stiffer racquets and looser-strung racquets can reduce the stress on the forearm muscles and keep them from working as hard. In addition, switching to a smaller racquet can also help prevent a recurrence of tennis elbow.
If these options don’t help your tennis elbow recover within 6-12 months, your doctor might recommend surgery, though this only happens in a minority of cases.
While tennis elbow can be painful and seriously impact your everyday life, thankfully recovery from this condition is usually simple and straightforward. Resting the affected arm and wearing the proper elbow support will go a long way towards making you feel better and regaining your full range of motion.
Kaki Zell - Vice President of Sales, Marketing, eCommerce at Legs-4-Life LLC Kaki holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration and Management from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. She’s been working in the medical device industry for over 11 years and currently serves on the Board of Directors for the Greensboro Science Center.
Written July 2018 | Page last updated May 2022
American Family Physician. “Exercises for Tennis Elbow” https://www.aafp.org/afp/2007/0915/p849.html
Cleveland Clinic. “Corticosteroids” https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/drugs/4812-corticosteroids
Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. “Tennis Elbow (Lateral Epicondylitis)”. https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases--conditions/tennis-elbow-lateral-epicondylitis/
American Society for Surgery. “Tennis Elbow - Lateral Epicondylitis”. https://www.assh.org/handcare/condition/tennis-elbow-lateral-epicondylitis