Tennis Elbow: Causes and Remedies
Tennis elbow is a very common condition that affects millions of people every year, but there are many natural remedies to relieve the pain, including the use of ginger, turmeric, massage, ice packs, and supportive straps, as well as sleeping more and doing specialized exercises.
Tennis elbow occurs as a result of repetitive motions of the arm, elbow and relevant tendons and muscles, hence the name, because tennis and other similar sports include constant use of the extensor muscles in that part of the body. Scientifically known as lateral epicondylitis, this condition afflicts millions of people with a sore and tender area on the outside of the elbow. When strenuous motions are repeated over time, it can cause wear and damage to the muscles, as well as tenderness. This condition can also affect manual laborers, such as construction workers or carpenters. Some of the most common symptoms of this condition include localized pain in the wrist and elbow, and weakness in the muscles used for gripping objects and extending your arm. People also suffer sharp, lancing pain in the elbow when performing simple tasks, such as turning a doorknob or carrying heavy objects.
There are a number of ways to prevent tennis elbow from developing, beyond avoiding the activities and motions that led to the condition in the first place. You can strengthen the relevant muscles with alternative exercises, use proper protective and supportive equipment, and avoid using those muscles for other common tasks.
Causes of Tennis Elbow
More specifically, tennis elbow can be caused by a number of specific events, in addition to overexertion over time. Microscopic and macroscopic tears can form in the muscles and tendons of the forearm, specifically due to the repetitive forceful activity of striking the ball, swinging a hammer, etc. Sometimes, a single forceful pull, unnatural twist, or unexpected blow to the area can also cause tennis elbow to develop, and from there, repeated exertion makes those small tears larger and more painful, eventually leaving one unable to perform the task. Also, if you fail to allow the tears to heal, by resting the muscle and taking a break from the activity, the condition can worsen to the point of debilitation. Fortunately, there are a number of natural remedies for tennis elbow, which we will explore in greater detail below.
Home Remedies for Tennis Elbow
Massage: One of the easiest remedies for tennis elbow is a simple massage, either self-administered or from a professional. Due to the location of the pain, it is quite easy to perform a massage on the painful area yourself. Massage increases blood flow and circulation to the damaged tendons and muscles, speeding up the healing process and keeping the muscles from locking up. Stretching before any physical exertion is also a wise choice to prevent further injury.
Turmeric: The natural anti-inflammatory nature of turmeric makes it valuable for many different physical conditions, particularly ones like tennis elbow, where the swelling of the muscles can make moving the joints painful, and prevent you from performing normal tasks. Curcumin, the active ingredient of turmeric, is also a natural analgesic and packed with antioxidants, which will speed the healing process of the damaged tendons.
Ginger: Boiling ginger root in water can produce a potent mixture of nutrients that can be applied directly on the swollen or inflamed elbow, providing fast and long-lasting relief. You can also mix ginger with honey and water and drink the concoction 1-2 times per day, as the anti-inflammatory properties of ginger and its active ingredient gingerol can also work from the inside out.
Ice Packs: When your muscles or tendons are strained, damaged or inflamed, ice packs are an excellent way to control the swelling and pain. You can wrap ice cubes in a towel and hold it against the elbow for 20 minutes at a time. Be careful not to try any physical activity or move the elbow too quickly following ice pack application, as the muscles will be cold and less flexible, making them more prone to injury immediately following the treatment.
Supportive Straps: If you can’t stop the repetitive action that is causing tennis elbow in the first place, be sure to wear protective or supportive gear to keep you safe. For tennis players, wearing a supportive strap beneath the elbow will keep the muscles and tendons somewhat constricted, preventing overexertion or strain. However, cessation of the activity is highly recommended.
Specialized Exercises: There are a number of exercises that can strengthen the muscles and tendons of your forearm. Laying your forearm on a flat surface, with your hand extended off the side, you can hold a weight and slowly flex your wrist up and down in reps of 10 or 15, depending on your comfort level. You should feel the muscle tension in your forearm. Doing this exercise regularly can build that muscle tone again, gradually relieving the pain and inflammation, and preventing your tennis elbow from getting any worse.
Complete Muscle Rest: The best solution for tennis elbow is to give your forearm complete muscle rest. Avoid any exertion and keep the muscles in your wrist and forearm as relaxed as possible. Increasing the amount of time you sleep each night, even by an hour or two, will give your body the chance to naturally heal, without the intermittent and progressive damage that will occur if you don’t stop the activity.
St. John’s Wort: As an anti-inflammatory and analgesic substance, St. John’s Wort has been recommended for tennis elbow for decades. You can apply St. John’s Wort oil directly on the inflamed area, take supplements, or mix this herbal powder in water and drink it twice a day for fast relief.
Improve Your Form: Many people suffer from tennis elbow due to a chronic problem in the way they play a particular sport or work a repetitive task. Working with a personal sports trainer or seeking advice on proper workplace form can be a good way to lower your risk of tennis elbow or making it any worse, if you’re already suffering from this inflammatory condition.
Garlic: Filled with antioxidants, anti-inflammatory compounds, sulfur and selenium, garlic is a powerful way to treat the pain and discomfort of tennis elbow. Crush 4-5 cloves of garlic and apply the paste directly to the inflamed area. The powerful active ingredients, including allicin, can quickly relieve the pain and swelling of your tennis elbow.
Comfrey Leaves: A lesser known herbal remedy, comfrey leaves are natural analgesics and anti-inflammatory substances. You can soak comfrey leaves in water, apply them directly to the inflamed area, and then wrap the elbow in a cloth. The active ingredients and compounds of the leaves will eliminate swelling and pain on the elbow and forearm. Use of comfrey is restricted in countries such as UK and U.S. so consult your local health specialist before use.
A Final Word of Warning: While tennis elbow often seems like an annoying ache, rather than a serious medical condition, it can continue to worsen over time, eventually leaving you unable to do many common activities. You should seek medical attention for a preliminary examination of your tennis elbow, and seek formal treatment, if necessary, in order to retain normal use and strength in the affected arm.