Elbow > Treatments
Your doctor may recommend a comprehensive non-surgical
treatment program to help you heal tennis elbow. Depending
on the extent of tendon injury, non-surgical treatment
can take between three and six months. The program is
usually a combination of rest, ice, medication, bracing,
activity modification, and physical therapy. Rest your
arm as much as possible. Try to avoid lifting heavy
objects and performing repetitive tasks with your wrist
during daily activities. When you are at home, try to
lay your arm down on cushions or the arm of a soft chair.
Physicians generally recommend placing an ice pack on
your elbow for 20 to 30 minutes every three to four
hours, or until you notice the pain has gone away. This
usually takes about two to three days, though some people
may need to continue icing their elbows if pain returns.
Your physician may recommend that you use anti-inflammatory
medication. Depending on the severity of your tennis
elbow, your doctor will decide whether you should be
prescribed over-the-counter anti-inflammatories, like
ibuprofen, or stronger corticosteroids. You may be given
a brace for your wrist or a strap to wear around your
elbow. The wrist brace helps support your forearm muscles
by holding your hand in proper position. The elbow strap
wraps around your forearm just below the elbow and helps
stop the forearm muscles from pulling directly on the
tendon attached to the elbow. Reducing the intensity
and duration of the activity that caused your tennis
elbow is also important. Whether you were playing tennis
or using a screwdriver too frequently, you should try
to minimize bending your wrist backward to give your
elbow a chance to heal. Physical therapy can help retrain
your arm muscles so that you have a good chance of returning
to activities free of pain.
During physical rehabilitation treatment
for your tennis elbow, you will most likely need to
do several exercises to stretch the arm muscles and
build strength around the elbow. This helps relieve
stress to the extensor tendon that attaches the forearm
muscle to the bony bump on the outside of the elbow.
Your physician will probably recommend that you do not
begin exercises until swelling and pain has been reduced.
Your physician and physical therapist will decide on
a custom rehab program that varies depending on your
body type, level of involvement in activities, and severity
of tennis elbow. It may take three to six months to
return to activities. In general, rehabilitation of
the elbow can be broken into four phases:
motion – Gentle stretching with the aid of a physical
therapist can help reestablish a pain-free range of
motion, reduce pain and inflammation, and prevent your
muscles from weakening due to inactivity.
exercise – The goals are to increase elbow mobility,
improve strength and endurance, and enhance your muscular
control around the elbow with light exercises. You should
have full range of motion and feel little pain in your
elbow before advancing to this stage of rehab.
strengthening – Once you have returned to about
70 percent of your own healthy arm strength, you can
begin exercises to build total arm strength. If you
remain pain-free, you can start to test your power and
endurance with more complicated exercises. The goal
is to increase your coordination to prepare you for
to activities – Your physical therapist can make
sure you have a full and pain-free range of motion before
your rehab is finished. Progressive functional drills,
which teach you proper technique for your favorite activities,
are usually the final phase of rehab.
Rehabilitating tennis elbow can be difficult because
so many daily activities, like turning doorknobs, can
cause pain during the first few weeks. Try to be patient
and follow your physical therapist's instructions.
Using proper form during activities,
whether they are sports- or work-related, can help prevent
the recurrence of tennis elbow. Your physical therapist
can teach you proper posture and technique that can
lessen the strain on your elbow's tendons. Be sure to
gradually increase the intensity of manual activities.
For example, avoid playing several hours of tennis if
you have not played for months, or taking on a big carpentry
project when you have not picked up your tools for a
while. With a chronic overuse injury like tennis elbow,
you may strain your tendon one day but not feel significant
pain until a few days later. To prevent reinjury, it
is important to know your limits beforehand and be cautious
when repeatedly using your wrist during activities.
When you have to use your wrist and elbow, try to ice
the outside of your elbow after activities. Physicians
generally recommend that you use tools and sports equipment
that is properly sized to fit your hand. If your doctor
prescribed a brace, be sure to wear it during activities.
In general, you should make the stretching and strengthening
you learned in rehab part of your regular exercise routine.