Why do I have tennis elbow if I don’t play tennis?
Tennis elbow is a laypersons term, whereas “lateral epicondylitis” is the official term. The both mean the same thing: pain on the outside of the elbow. It’s a common complaint of tennis players, but also of anyone who is frequently extending the arm back and forth such as in golf, weight training or even raking leaves.
Tendons connect your muscles to bones. In the case of tennis elbow, muscle in your forearm and the tiny part of a tendon that is attached to your elbow bone becomes irritated from overuse. Less common is medial epicondylitis where the side closest to your body becomes irritated and painful (sometimes called Golfer's Elbow).
When looking for pain relief, it’s interesting to note why and how elbow braces work.
By applying pressure on the tendon or muscle that attaches to elbow, a brace absorbs some of the forces that transmit through the soft tissues causing the injury. For example, consider the sensation of hitting the ball during tennis- it’s easy to imagine the shockwaves that go through the arm. If your tendon is already irritated, the vibration and force will cause pain. With a brace, the waves are softened and mainly limited to the forearm rather than the elbow.
Braces also change the angle at which the tendon works which then changes the direction of forces that are causing strain. Essentially, the brace helps to transfer some of the workloads to other muscles and tendons. This gives the inflamed tendon a break, allowing it to heal faster .
Studies show that a simple, one strap brace provides immediate pain relief in most people . The same study compared the two main types of braces- a one strap brace that is worn on the upper forearm and a two-strap model that also has a strap that wraps above the elbow, which aims to provide further unloading to the injured tissue. Researchers found no difference in the amount of relief the straps provided. They note that it is just a personal preference.
Back to tennis
Thankfully tennis elbow is self-limiting, meaning that with time the pain will go away on its own. As difficult as it may be, rest works great for a speedy recovery. In the meantime, there are more things you can do to help.
While exercising or doing anything that may irritate the elbow, it’s important to wear a brace or a compression sleeve. As we’ve seen, the brace limits further injury to the elbow and relieves pain. Studies have also shown that compression limits the amount of painful inflammation that can come during activity. After a workout, applying ice will both relieve pain and decrease any inflammation. Topical analgesics can also come in handy in a pinch.
With time and care, you’ll soon be back in the game. A complete solution with easy instructions is available in our Pains and Strains Tennis Elbow Care Kit try it risk free!
 Bisset, L.M. et al. Immediate Effects of 2 Types of Braces on Pain and Grip Strength in People With Lateral Epicondylalgia: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy 2014 44:2, 120-128 doi: 10.2519/jospt.2014.4744