Another episode of the Tennis Quick Tips podcast is out! In TQT 015, you'll learn all about one of the most feared injuries in tennis – tennis elbow (ack!). Check out “How to Prevent and Treat Tennis Elbow” to learn exactly what you can do to deal with and, hopefully, prevent ever getting tennis elbow.
Below is an edited version of the transcript for this episode that you can read through for notes and to get more information. Links to resources are included at the end of this post.
I bet not a week goes by that I don’t play someone who has one of those compression thingies on their forearm because they suffer from tennis elbow or have in the past. I see that enough that I have become pretty concerned about this devastating injury happening to me. Especially because I know that one of the best treatments for tennis elbow is to just stop playing tennis! Never!
Unfortunately, so many players I know have tennis elbow or have had it that it seems inevitable that we’ll all get it one day. Maybe you are already a tennis elbow sufferer. Or maybe, like me, you just want to make sure you don’t end up becoming one.
So let’s talk tennis elbow.
Tennis elbow can affect as many as half 50% of all tennis players at some point in their career. It is more common in men than women, sorry guys, and most often affects players aged 30 to 50, although you can get it at any age.
Tennis elbow occurs when the tendons that connect your forearm muscles to your elbow are damaged. It is an over-use injury and is frequently caused because a player is using the wrong equipment or technique. It usually occurs in your dominant arm, so in your right arm if you are a right, and can be exacerbated by grasping, gripping or twisting motions. Basically, the exact kind of motions you use to play tennis.
Tennis players can get tennis elbow from:
- A poor backhand technique
- A racquet grip that is too small
- Strings that are too tight
- Or playing with wet, heavy balls
And side note here – I would like to know who exactly is playing with wet, heavy balls to the point that it gives them tennis elbow.
Anyway, tennis elbow cannot be diagnosed by a blood test or by an x-ray. The way to know you have it is by the type of pain you are feeling and the symptoms you are experiencing.
So what are the most common symptoms of tennis elbow? The main symptom is pain, which can start with a dull aching or soreness on the outer part of the elbow. While this may go away in a short time, usually in less than 24 hours after playing tennis, over time, it can take longer for the pain to stop. Eventually, the condition can progress to the point that you feel pain during many everyday activities such as lifting a coffee cup, turning the key in your car, or shaking someone’s hand. The pain can spread to your hand, the rest of your arm, your shoulder and/or your neck.
So let’s say that you are now convinced you have tennis elbow. What can you do?
The good news is that there are plenty of at-home treatment options for tennis elbow. This is an injury that can usually be treated by non-surgical means. So, if you’re currently suffering from tennis elbow, here’s what you can do to immediately reduce your pain:
- Rest and avoid any activity that causes pain in the tennis elbow area. And yes, yes, that may mean taking time off from playing tennis! But this is important because it will give your tendons time to heal.
- Apply ice packs to the sore area.
- Take anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen, naproxen or acetaminophen.
Once your pain is relieved, you need to start begin the slow process of stretching and strengthening the muscles in your arm, especially in your forearm. If you’re suffering from tennis elbow pain, then the only exercises you want to perform are stretches. And none of those should ever be performed to the point of pain. I just posted a video on my YouTube channel showing some great stretches you can do any time, anywhere to help relieve and prevent tennis elbow. These are gentle enough that you can do them even if you are experiencing tennis elbow pain. I’ll put a link to that video in the show notes. I’ll also link to some great warm-up, stretching and strengthening exercises you can find on WebMD that will help you recover from tennis elbow or avoid getting it in the first place.
Ultimately, to deal with tennis elbow, the activities or motions that aggravate your pain have to be avoided. And for us tennis players, this may mean, finally, learning proper stroke technique to prevent re-injury. If your tennis elbow is a result of your tennis game, consider changing your racquet, loosening your tennis strings, or even having your strokes and racquet technique evaluated by a professional who can help you learn to properly hit the ball.
The good new is that 90 to 95% of tennis elbow sufferers will get relief from just following the conservative steps of warming-up, stretching, strengthening and using proper equipment and technique. So if you’re a tennis elbow sufferer, take heart. There is hope and you will play tennis again! If you don’t currently have tennis elbow, I strongly suggest you start using the stretching and strengthening exercises I’ve recommended here so that you never face that day when you have to sit out a match due to injury.
So what about my own fear of tennis elbow? Well, after all of the research I did, I decided that I didn’t have it. But just learning about it convinced me that now was a good time to start doing some simple exercises to prevent it.
Here are links to the resources mentioned in this episode:
- Tennis Elbow article on WebMD
- Tennis Fixation's YouTube video – “Quick and Easy Stretches to Prevent Tennis Elbow”
- Warm-Up Exercises for Tennis Elbow from WebMD
- Stretching Exercises for Tennis Elbow from WebMD
- Strengthening Exercises for Tennis Elbow from WebMD
Are you a tennis elbow sufferer? Got any other tennis-related injuries? Let me know how you're dealing with them in the comments below. And I hope you'll subscribe to Tennis Quick Tips!
Thanks for listening and, as always, Happy Tennis!