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Tennis Elbow Massage

Tennis Elbow Massage: How to Relieve Tennis Elbow Pain

Question:

I’ve been feeling pain in my right elbow lately – with some activities, it can be excruciating. So I went to a doctor and was diagnosed with tennis elbow, which is funny because I’ve never even played tennis! The doctor basically told me to take anti-inflammatories and said it would go away on its own after a few months. But I’m not interested in dealing with this pain (or taking drugs every day) for months. Is there a massage that can relieve my tennis elbow pain?

Answer:

Tennis elbow is traditionally linked to high-impact movements such as slamming a tennis ball with a racket – hence the name. But the truth is, tennis elbow is a relatively common affliction that can affect anyone who uses their forearms strenuously – painters, guitarists, even knitters.[1] Studies have shown that approximately 40 percent of all adults will experience tennis elbow at some point in their lives, most of them between 35 and 64 years of age.[2]

Your doctor was correct that tennis elbow is a self-limiting condition, meaning it does usually resolve itself without treatment. However, this can take 12 to 18 months, and you can’t be expected to go that long without some type of relief.[3] Many people try physical therapy to relieve tennis elbow symptoms, but studies have shown that there’s really no difference in results between patients who use physical therapy and those who get massage.[4] So if your choice is between physical therapy and massage, you may find massage more enjoyable, at least.

Sports massage is the technique that works best for relieving the pain and stiffness associated with tennis elbow. It doesn’t matter if you didn’t get the injury from sports or aren’t an athlete – sports massage is a technique that combines Swedish massage with deep-tissue massage, and anyone can benefit from it. Through transverse friction, the massage therapist enhances the flow of fluids through your connective tissues to induce repair and relieve your pain.[5]

Look for a massage therapist who specializes in sports massage, and let them know about your injury. They may ask you some questions to determine how you use your arms and what goals you want to achieve so they can find the right combination of techniques to help get you there. Although your elbow may start to feel better after one session, it’s generally going to take at least 3-4 weekly sessions to achieve any lasting results.

Studies have also shown that massage works best as a complementary therapy, alongside other treatment. You may still want to work with your doctor on an exercise plan for physical therapy, and you may still need to take those anti-inflammatories from time to time. If you abandon everything else and focus solely on massage, your results likely won’t be as good.[6]

References:

[1] HFE.co.uk: “Sports Massage for Tennis Elbow,” https://www.hfe.co.uk/blog/sports-massage-tennis-elbow/

[2] Journal of Physiotherapy: “Physiotherapy Management of Lateral Epicondylalgia,” https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1836955315000910

[3] Hand (NY): “Non-Surgical Treatment of Lateral Epicondylitis: A Systematic Review of Randomized Controlled Trials,” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4235906/

[4] Id.

[5] HFE.co.uk: “Sports Massage for Tennis Elbow,” https://www.hfe.co.uk/blog/sports-massage-tennis-elbow/

[6] Journal of Physiotherapy: “Physiotherapy Management of Lateral Epicondylalgia,” https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1836955315000910

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