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Physical Therapy for Tennis Elbow – Information, Exercises, and More

If you’ve recently been diagnosed with tennis elbow (lateral epicondylitis) you may be thinking, “but, I don’t play tennis—how could this happen to me?”

Don’t worry—you’re not sleepwalking to the courts each night. 

Chances are, you’ve sustained a repetitive strain injury

Meaning that you have a job or activity that requires you to do the same movements throughout the day, causing stress on the tendons in your elbow.

So, what can you do about it?

In this guide, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about tennis elbow, and what you can expect from your recovery.

What is Tennis Elbow?

Tennis Elbow is the inflammation of the tendon that connects the lower arm muscles to the bony part of your elbow (the epicondyle) — typically brought on by repetitive activity and overuse.

Pain occurs at the point where the tendon meets the bone, but may also radiate through the forearm to the wrist.

What Causes Tennis Elbow?

Tennis elbow can occur in anyone who engages in activities that require prolonged use of the wrist and hand.

For example:

  • Using a computer
  • Playing racket sports with an incorrect grip
  • Operating machinery
  • Using tools such as a screwdriver
  • Etc.

Tennis elbow can occur in almost half of the people who play racket sports, but it can affect anyone including:

  • Men
  • Women
  • Children
  • Athletes
  • Non-athletes
  • Dentists
  • Carpenters
  • Gardners
  • Etc.

It’s most common in individuals between the ages of 30 to 50 years old and occurs more frequently in men than women.

Tennis Elbow Symptoms

Symptoms for tennis elbow can come on suddenly—or gradually over time—depending on the activity.

Activities that require force and excessive use of the wrist and hand can cause a sudden onset of tennis elbow. 

Movements that can cause sudden symptoms include:

  • Excessive pulling
  • Heavy lifting
  • Twisting

However, it is far more common for tennis elbow symptoms to appear over weeks or months, and may include:

  • Pain from the elbow that can radiate through your forearm and wrist
  • Difficulty or pain with activities that require a grip, such as using a pen, or opening a jar
  • Weakness in your hand, wrist, or forearm
  • A stiff elbow

If you suspect you are experiencing any of these symptoms, a physical therapist can help.

Your physical therapist will examine your elbow and surrounding areas that may be contributing to the pain and conduct a few manual tests to determine the cause and location of the problem. 

Diagnostic imaging tests are rarely used to diagnose tennis elbow.

Tennis Elbow Treatment

If you start to feel pain in your elbow—and especially if it’s radiating to your forearm or wrist—then chances are you have tennis elbow.

A physical therapist can guide you through your treatment, surgery is very rarely needed.

Step 1: Ice, Anti-inflammatories, and Rest

The first 24-48 hours after the onset of acute tennis elbow pain, you should:

  • Ice the area in 10-20 minute intervals to reduce swelling and pain
  • Take an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory (ibuprofen, naproxen)
  • Rest and avoid activities that could irritate your tennis elbow

Step 2: Braces and Splints

Not everyone will require the use of a brace or a splint. 

Your physical therapist may recommend you wear either one or both:

  • A brace around your forearm to relieve some of the pressure off the tendons in your elbow
  • A wrist splint at night to rest the muscles and tendons

Step 3: Tennis Elbow Physical Therapy

Physical therapy for tennis elbow (tendonitis) can help increase the blood flow to the tendons, which can help speed the healing.

In addition, your physical therapist will devise a treatment plan to include exercises to strengthen and improve the flexibility of the muscles in your elbow, forearm, and wrist.

A physical therapist can even show you how to change the way you do the activities that led to the condition.

Tennis Elbow Physical Therapy – Will PT Help?

A common question we get asked is, “Does physical therapy help tennis elbow?”

In short, yes.

While it’s true that icing, painkillers, and a brace can be very effective in reducing the pain and allowing individuals to return to normal activities sooner, it’s often not enough.

Physical therapy is individualized, meaning that your specific treatment plan will not only be designed for the extent of your injury but also taking into consideration your usual activities and cause of the injury.

Your physical therapist will use special techniques to relieve pain, such as:

  • Supervised exercises
  • Manual therapy
  • Ice or heat therapy
  • At-home physical therapy exercises
  • Patient education

Best Physical Therapy Exercises for Tennis Elbow

Through physical therapy, your muscles will be conditioned for strength, mobility, and flexibility.

Oftentimes, tennis elbow is a result of insufficient strength in your muscles. Your physical therapist will work with you to ease your muscles back into use. 

Depending on the nature of your injury, your therapist may prescribe the following exercises:

  • Passive exercises – moving your wrist and elbow without the use of the muscles
  • Active exercises – moving the wrist and elbow without assistance
  • Strengthening exercises – adding weights or resistance bands to the movements

Muscle Retraining

Your therapist can help you return to your normal activities by retraining your muscles so that you can use them properly.

Through therapy, modifications can be made to the way you do everyday things, such as:

  • Work – adjusting your workspace to avoid strain to the area
  • Sports – helping to improve your grip or swing
  • Home repairs – adjusting your grip and use of tools in the home or garden

Stretching Exercises

In addition to taking frequent stretching breaks from repetitive activities, your therapist will also teach you stretching exercises.

These exercises are effective in lengthening and strengthening the muscle-tendon complex.

How In Motion O.C. Can Help With Tennis Elbow

In Motion O.C. has helped hundreds of people overcome the pain and issues associated with tennis elbow.

Our physical therapists will treat you in our state-of-the-art facility, using the most up to date equipment and treatments available.

In Motion O.C. was voted #1 in the entire country for Physical Therapists on Yelp

Check out what our clients have to say about us, then book your appointment to see for yourself.

*This information about physical therapy for tennis elbow was reviewed by Dr Natalie Thomas, PT, DPT. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us here.

Physical Therapy for Tennis Elbow | Irvine | Orange County CA

In Motion O.C.