Tendonitis of the Elbow

Is Tendonitis of the Elbow Preventing you from doing what you LOVE?

Give Acupuncture a Try?

Tendonitis of the elbow is an inflammation of several structures of the elbow including the muscles, tendons, bursa, periosteum and epicondyle (bony projections on the outside and inside of the elbow, where the muscles of the forearm attach to the bone of the upper arm).

The pain caused by tendonitis of the elbow originates from a partial tear of the tendon and the attached covering of the bone. This partial tear is caused by chronic stress on the tissues attaching the forearm muscles (known as extensor muscles) to the elbow area.

How is it caused?

Tendonitis of the elbow can be brought about by any activity which requires strenuous or repetitive movement of the forearm. This includes occupations such as mechanics, carpentry, plumbing, etc… Sports activities such as tennis, golfing, bowling, skiing, weight-lifting and throwing a ball all have the potential to cause problems if the area is already inflamed and/or weak.

Since tendonitis is the result of long-standing inflammation caused by repetitive strain, the only way to really resolve the pain and clear up the problem is to reduce the inflammation. This gives the area a chance to repair itself and heal the partial tear.

What does it feel like?

Individuals experiencing tendonitis of the elbow will complain of tenderness and pain over either one of the two epicondyles. If the lateral (outside) epicondyle is causing discomfort, we call that “tennis elbow.” If the medial (inside) epicondyle is sore, we call that “golfer’s elbow.”

People who experience tendonitis of the elbow will also feel a shot of acute pain with gripping or rotation of the wrist or forearm, like say, grabbing/lifting a cup of coffee.

If the situation continues to go untreated and becomes chronic, a decrease in grip strength can develop.

How acupuncture resolves tendonitis:

Acupuncture works to reduce the inflammation at the source of the pain and stimulate repair to the local area. This is achieved by the insertion of very fine needles around the shoulder, down the arm, around the elbow joint, down the forearm and sometimes around the wrist. Oftentimes, we also use electro-stimulation, which sends a gentle vibration through the needle and into the local area to reduce the pain and stimulate healing.

It is common, and actually encouraged, to feel a tingling or a sensation of heaviness in the affected arm. This is how we know the acupuncture is “working.” The whole idea is to exhaust the nerve response in the area, effectively “shutting down” the pain response so that the local area has a chance to heal. It is common for the arm to feel a bit weak for about an hour following treatment, but don’t worry, full strength is regained soon after!

It is also normal, especially in the first few sessions, to experience 2-3 days of soreness following treatment. We have essentially caused a small amount of trauma to stimulate repair. When the body experiences a small amount of “trauma” in a local area, it responds by sending in fresh, oxygenated blood and white blood cells to the area to promote healing. The healing is what causes the typical soreness following a treatment. I tell my patients to think of it as a “good kind of pain,” with the knowledge that something positive is happening in their bodies!

It is also very important to fully rest the elbow for at least an entire two days following treatment. This is one of the hardest things for individuals to comply with when receiving treatment, but this is probably the most important aspect of treating a repetitive strain injury. Without proper healing time, you will only continue to re-aggravate the elbow, bringing you back to where you were originally. If the repetitive strain is a part of your occupation, it is suggested that you wear a brace or wrap the area to give it extra support. Many people find that their co-workers will pull a little extra weight the day following treatment in order to help out with the recovery. Employers too are often very supportive knowing that their employee is seeking treatment for something that is impeding their work!

I tell my patients that it usually takes about 6 weekly treatments in order to see sustainable improvement. It is crucial to be consistent when committing to the weekly treatment protocol, as taking time off can lead to re-inflammation of the elbow, impeding your progress and sending you back to where you were in the beginning. The trick to treating tendonitis is to continually keep the inflammatory response in check, reducing it each time you come in for treatment until it is gone entirely.

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About Chris Tse

I’m a scientist turned owner of Blitz Conditioning, a Fitness Columnist at CBC Radio on Thursdays at 8:20 am, and owner of Tse Social Strategy. Follow me on Twitter or Read my full bio.

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