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  • Ken Haydock

Acupuncture for tennis elbow pain

Updated: Jul 13, 2020

What is tennis elbow? I don't even play tennis!

Tennis elbow (also known as lateral epicondylitis) is a stubborn and painful condition affecting the tendons which attach to the lateral epicondyle at the outside of the elbow. This is not to be confused with a similar condition called golfer's elbow (or medial epicondylitis) which affects the tendons attaching to the inner side of the elbow.

Tennis elbow is usually caused by repetitive motions of the wrist and forearms which overload the muscles and tendons over time. Microscopic and macroscopic tears form in the tendon that attaches to the epicondyle, leading to tendinosis and pain. Tennis elbow may be caused by all kinds of sports activities, manual work occupations and trades. Indeed, most of the people affected have never played tennis in their life.


How can acupuncture therapy support your recovery from tennis elbow?

The scientific evidence from systematic reviews of clinical trials finds acupuncture is effective for tennis elbow and that it may provide short term improvement for both pain and function. Importantly, tennis elbow is often a chronic condition, which means it may take months to recover rather than weeks. As a general rule of thumb, most acupuncturists and manual therapists will say that the longer a problem has been present, the longer it will take to resolve. It is my recommendation that if you have this kind of pain, it is best to seek treatment immediately rather than wait for it to settle on its own.

What does treatment involve?

Below I have attached a video of me treating myself with acupuncture for tennis elbow pain which occurred after a weight training session. Luckily it was my left arm as my right arm would have been a lot more difficult for me to treat! My treatment strategy was to use electro-acupuncture at the motor points to release tension on the wrist extensor muscles in this area (brachioradialis, extensor digitorum longus and brevis, and extensor digitorum communis). Reducing tension in these muscles will reduce the strain being placed on the tendon attachment at the elbow. In this case, the pain settled down very quickly and I did not require further treatment. At Bowen Hills Acupuncture and Remedial Therapies, I also offer alternative manual therapies to release the extensor muscles for anyone who feels uncomfortable about needling, .



Does resting help tennis elbow?

Well, it depends… If you have just started experiencing tennis elbow pain, then you should definitely try to avoid aggravating activities, try some compression bandaging for support, and maybe even consider immobilising the elbow for a short time. However, if the problem has been ongoing for several months, then it may be better to try a graded exercise program to carefully load and strengthen the tendons and muscles. With chronic pain, long term pain avoiding habits will often lead to weakening of the tissues which makes the initial problem worse. For these kinds of chronic problems, I find it is best to try to gradually increase tolerance to activity.


What next?

If you suffer from tennis elbow, I can provide advice on how to manage this condition, based on your individual circumstances. If you have any questions don't hesitate to drop me a line by email at ken@bowenhillsacupuncture.com.au, through messenger or call me on 0434 411 654.

References

Gadau, M., Yeung, W.-F., Liu, H., Zaslawski, C., Tan, Y.-S., Wang, F.-C., … Zhang, S.-P. (2014). Acupuncture and moxibustion for lateral elbow pain: A systematic review of randomized controlled trials. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 14(1). doi:10.1186/1472-6882-14-136 Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24726029/


The International Centre for Allied Health Evidence (2018). Effectiveness and Safety of Acupuncture Interventions for the Treatment of Musculoskeletal Conditions. Technical Report. Prepared for the Accident Compensation Corporation, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://www.acc.co.nz/assets/research/2b0c243f75/acupuncture-musculoskeletal-conditions-review.pdf

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