I’m pretty lucky in that I have a two-handed backhand, which means I have less stress on my elbows in general. But not a week goes by that I don’t see at least one chick sporting a compression band on her forearm.
She has every tennis player’s nightmare – tennis elbow.
Tennis elbow occurs when the tendons that connect your forearm muscles to your elbow are damaged. It’s what the docs call an “over-use” injury and is frequently caused when a player is using the wrong equipment or technique – usually the latter. This condition usually occurs in your dominant arm, and can be exacerbated by grasping, gripping or twisting motions; Basically, the exact kind of motions you use to play tennis.
Tennis players can get tennis elbow from:
- A poor backhand technique (even one awkward backhand volley could do it)
- A racket grip that is too small
- Strings that are too tight
- Or playing with wet, heavy balls
About half of all tennis players will get tennis elbow at some point, occurring mostly in men rather than women, and in the 30-50 age bracket (though it can happen at any age). Unfortunately, this condition can’t be diagnosed by an x-ray, so the only way to know you have it is by pinpointing the type of pain and symptoms you’re experiencing.
The main symptom is pain, which starts as a dull aching or soreness on the outer part of the elbow. When the initial injury occurs, the pain is usually gone within 24 hours of not playing tennis. However, if you regularly play with untreated tennis elbow, the pain will increasingly take longer to stop each time. Eventually, the condition can progress to the point that you feel pain not only on the court, but during many everyday activities such as lifting a coffee cup, turning the key in your car, or shaking someone’s hand. In extreme cases, the pain can also spread to your hand, the rest of your arm, your shoulder and/or your neck.
So let’s say that you are now convinced you have tennis elbow. What can you do?
Well, this condition rarely requires surgery, so there are plenty of at-home treatment options available. So, if you’re currently suffering from tennis elbow, here are some things you can do to immediately reduce your pain:
- Rest and avoid any activity (YES, this means NO tennis!) that causes pain in the tennis elbow area
- Apply ice packs to the sore area
- Wear a support band
- Take anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen, naproxen or acetaminophen.
Once your pain is relieved, you need to start stretching and strengthening the muscles in your forearm, which will help support your tendons. The video below shows some of the best stretching and strengthening exercises for tennis elbow. NOTE: Though you will probably experience a little discomfort while performing these exercises, you should not continue to the point of any real pain.
Ultimately, to heal tennis elbow, the activities or motions that aggravate your pain must be avoided. If you know for a fact that your tennis elbow is a result of your tennis game and not something else, check and see if your grip might be too small, which in that case you should either build it up or change your racket. Also, have your pro check to see if your strings are too tight, and if so, have them loosened a bit. And if those tips don’t help, have your pro or a professional evaluate your grip, strokes and serve to make sure you have correct form.
The good news is that 90 to 95% of tennis elbow sufferers will get relief from just following one or more of the following steps: warming-up, stretching, strengthening and using proper equipment and technique. So if you’re a tennis elbow sufferer, take heart. There is hope and you will play tennis again! And if you don’t have tennis elbow, I strongly suggest you start using the stretching and strengthening exercises I’ve recommended here so that you never face that day when you have to sit out a match due to injury.