Tennis and Golfer’s Elbow

By Nicole Murray, L.Ac.

Tennis and golfer’s elbow are conditions we frequently see at BCA. Tennis elbow is a condition affecting the lateral elbow (on the thumb side when you turn your palm up). It’s known medically as lateral epicondylitis-or a painful inflammation of the tendons where they attach to the lateral side of the bone. Golfer’s elbow, or medial epicondylitis, is painful inflammation of the tendons where they attach to the medial side of the bone (on the pinkie side when you turn your palm up).

These conditions are most commonly caused by overuse-from sports or any strain on the associated tendons. Trauma, like a fall directly on the elbow, can also cause pain.

Conventional treatment involves resting the arm as much as possible, use of painkillers, and sometimes a splint or a brace. In some cases, doctors may prescribe a steroid shot (cortisone) directly into the inflamed area as a means to reduce inflammation and pain. When tennis or golfer’s elbow becomes a more long-term problem, physical therapy may be prescribed. Western medical practitioners often advise using ice to reduce swelling in the area.

Acupuncture We advise coming in as soon as symptoms start, so that we can help to resolve the issue quickly. When people come in right away, they are often pain-free after just a few treatments. We have good success even when the pain is more chronic. In these cases, we typically will advise daily treatment for 3-5 days, then 2-3 times a week for several weeks. We usually place several needles around the affected tendon, and use other points on the body that help reduce pain and inflammation systemically. We also often prescribe a traditional Chinese liniment called Zheng Gu Shui, which is very effective in treating tendonitis. Contrary to conventional advice, we strongly advise against using ice after the first 48 hours-gentle heat is better because it keeps circulation going in the area to speed healing.

We know from treating hundreds of these cases that acupuncture works, often even when all other efforts have failed.

A 2004 systematic review of acupuncture for tennis elbow published in Rheumatology revealed that “all the studies suggested that acupuncture was effective in the short-term relief of lateral epicondyle pain.”

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