Tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow are no fun to deal with.  While both types of injuries are located in different areas of elbow they are very similar in nature. They tend to be painful and nagging injuries that seem to never go away. The typical cycle may look something like this. You start to feel a pain in your elbow (inside area if it’s golfer’s elbow and outside area if it’s tennis elbow). Once you feel pain you figure some rest might help, so you rest and then decide to “test” it out again. But the pain returns again!

          So you rest it, ice it, slap a brace/band on it, and maybe take some pain killers and the pain subsides. Feeling good you decide to get back out there and UGH the pain returns!  It can certainly be a frustrating experience especially when you are beginning to miss out on some of your favorite activities including tennis, golf, or lifting weights. What’s going on? Why isn’t the elbow pain getting any better?

1. Ice, Pain Killers, and Armbands/Braces Are Only “Band Aids”

       Pain killers, braces, arm bands, are usually the first “go to” quick fixes for people dealing with elbow pain. When I see someone dealing with this problematic issue these are the FIRST things they say they have tried. There’s nothing inherently bad or wrong with using these things to help decrease pain but the problem is that they only address the “symptoms” of the problem and not the true “root cause” of why the pain is occurring.  This is why the elbow pain calms down for the short term but then ramps up again once you try to get back to your favorite activity. The truth is that there are no “quick fixes” to golfer’s elbow or tennis elbow.  

2. Rest Is Needed But It HAS To Be The Right Amount

     We all know rest is needed in order for an injury to heal. Rest is important yes but understanding the appropriate amount of rest is vital. If you just rest and NOTHING else then you will be doing nothing to address the underling issue of the elbow being overworked. Here are a few big take aways regarding rest.

 Don’t rest for extended period of time (without taking any other action) hoping the pain will just go away. Usually pain occurs because there is some sort of strength, flexibility, or movement fault. Rest will not fix these issues

Don’t completely avoid activity. Sometimes it’s OK to feel a little sore in the elbow after playing tennis, golf, or working out. It’s when this soreness turns into pain and lingers for 2+ days that it becomes an issue. Cut back on the amount of the activity you do instead of avoiding it all together.

Don’t rush back into things give your body some time to heal. Yes you want to rest the area but while you are resting you need to work on the issues that are causing the pain to occur. Typically some of the causative factors include a lack of strength and flexibility in not only the elbow but the wrist and shoulder as well.

3. The Wrong Area Is Being Treated

          This one can be tricky for some. The pain is felt in the elbow and the first line of defense is to focus only on treating the area of the pain. This will bring some symptom relief but leave you disappointed when the issue doesn’t go away completely. What most people miss out on is treating the areas above and below the elbow including the neck, shoulder, and wrist.  These areas MUST be looked out in order to understand what the root cause of the elbow pain. Chances are if an epsiode of elbow pain is lasting longer than you can stand and you’ve tried treatments directly at the site of the elbow then you may need to look above and below the elbow.

         If you find yourself in the endless cycle of elbow pain flare ups, calming down, and flaring up again then the reasons above may be why you haven’t enjoyed the lasting recovery you are seeking. The key is to understand that there is ALWAYS an answer as to why the elbow pain occurs. If you’ve tried all of the above mentioned tactics then it may be time to seek a second opinion to figure out the true root cause of your elbow pain.