If you have had elbow pain or currently are experiencing it, I have a few suggestions that will help you alleviate that. Pain in the outer side of the elbow is referred to as lateral epicondylitis a.k.a tennis elbow. Pain in the inner side of the elbow is referred to as medial epicondylitis a.k.a. Golfer’s elbow.
Tennis elbow is often caused by repetitive stress and overuse of the common extensor tendon. This tendon inserts into the outer side of the elbow, where the pain is experienced. Activities that can cause this are ones where you are gripping and extending the wrist. This can be playing tennis or working on a laptop with poor ergonomic set-up. Golfer’s elbow is more related to gripping with flexion activities, and thus the flexor tendon insertions get irritated.
For both of these syndromes, the forearms are usually tight. For this, stretching the forearms is very helpful. Soft tissue and muscle work performed by a physical therapist (PT) can also help to eliminate the tightness in the muscles.
The tendon portion is often affected, and this is the part that connects the muscle to the bone. To improve tendon health, deep friction mobilization is needed. This can be performed by a PT, and sometimes the use of a particular tool is implicated. These potential tools are called gua sha, graston, or cup therapy.
Another important part of getting the tendon healthy is performing eccentric strengthening. Eccentric means that the tendon is lengthening as the exercise is being performed. Your PT can guide you in how to perform this type of exercise properly.
A key note also is that if you are experiencing elbow pain then it is a good idea to decrease any repetitive stress that may be causing it. Decrease the repeated gripping tasks as much as you can and keep your wrists in a neutral position. Watch your ergonomic set-up while working on a computer. Your elbows should be at 90 degree angles when typing and wrist neutral as well. No heavy lifting for the time being while you have pain or symptoms as well.
If you have acute pain then ice can help to decrease the inflammation in that region. Ice for 15-20 minutes, and you can cycle through this a few times during the day (take the ice off for 30 minutes in between). There are other techniques that can be performed to help take pressure off the area when it is acutely inflamed, like kinesiotape to the region or an elbow strap. Your PT will be able to kinesiotape the region for you, and even teach a family member how to do it at home as able.
Whatever the case, it is a great idea to get a comprehensive evaluation if you are experiencing elbow pain or have had it in the past. Your PT can help you alleviate the pain, and develop a plan so that it doesn’t come back in the future as well. Often, tendon issues need specific treatments and otherwise will continue to get worse and not heal properly.