Elbow > Tennis Elbow > Treatments

Home Recovery

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.

Rehabilitation [top]

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:

   Immediate 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.

   Intermediate 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.

   Advanced 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 activities.

   Return 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.

Prevention [top]

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.

Rest, Ice, Physical Therapy
   Home Recovery
Surgical Debridement

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