by Gabe Mirkin, M.D.
You don’t have to play tennis to develop tennis elbow. It can be due to any movement that puts excessive force on the wrist muscles. Tennis elbow refers to elbow pain as the result of an injury to the elbow tendons that bend and straighten the wrist. Hold your hand down with your thumb on the outside (lateral to your hand) and your elbow straight. Pain on the lateral (outside) part of your elbow is called backhand tennis elbow. Pain on the medial (inside) part is called forehand tennis elbow.
The muscles and tendons are damaged when the force on them is greater than their inherent strength. If the ball hits your racquet with a force that is greater than the strength of your wrist muscles, your wrist tendons tear. In the same way, carrying a suit case, twisting a screwdriver, turning a stuck faucet, or trying to open a jammed door can tear your wrist muscles and cause tennis elbow. More than 50 percent of professional tennis players suffer from tennis elbow. Conventional treatments, such as acupuncture, corticosteroids pills and injections, and surgery are usually ineffective.
Physical therapists at the Nicholas Institute of Sports Medicine and Athletic Trauma at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City report that eccentric exercises offer simple and effective cure for tennis elbow (July 2009 annual meeting of the American Orthopedic Society for Sports Medicine).
Eccentric contractions occur during a biceps curl when you lower the weight and your biceps lengthens. Concentric contractions occur when you raise the weight and your biceps muscle shortens.
The researchers prescribed either standard physical therapy for tennis elbow to 10 control patients and physical therapy plus special eccentric exercises to 11 others. After less than two months, the program was terminated because the control group had not improved, while the eccentric group reported an 81 percent improvement in pain and a 72 percent improvement in strength.
The exercise is done with an inexpensive piece of equipment called the Thera-Band Flexbar, available at Amazon. Hold the bar upright with your hand of the affected side. With your hand of the healthy side, grasp the bar near the top and twist it in front of the body. Then use the sore elbow-side hand to slowly untwist the bar by flexing the wrist.