Tennis elbow, also known as lateral epicondylitis, is a painful condition where the tendons connecting the forearm muscles to the outer elbow joint become overloaded from repetitive motions. Repeated elbow contraction and forearm rotation could result in overexertion or micro-tears in these tendons, leading to swelling and inflammation. This condition is characterized by localized pain in the outer elbow and difficulty in forearm rotation.

Common symptoms

  1. Localized pain in the outer elbow joint and connecting forearm tendons, which can be aggravated during contraction or rotation of the forearm, or when lifting, gripping, or pushing objects. The pain may also radiate down to the forearm and wrist.
  2. Swelling and tenderness on outer elbow joint and surrounding ligaments.
  3. Weakness in grip strength.
Tennis elbow is usually a self-limiting condition, which means mild cases will resolve on its own in a couple of days or weeks with appropriate care. However, in severe cases, there may be recurrent pain, with acute episodes upon overexertion.

Risk factors

Although the condition is commonly known as tennis elbow, it is not exclusive to tennis players. It may occur to anyone who engages in activities that put repeated stress on the elbow for a prolonged period. Risk factors include:
  1. Age: Although it can affect people of all ages, it is commonly observed in adults aged between 30 and 50
  2. Occupation: Commonly seen in labor-intensive jobs that require repetitive elbow movements, e.g., tennis player, cook, painter, carpenter, etc.
Conventional treatment and management

As this condition is a result of muscle overuse, rest your injured arm and avoid activities that will aggravate the pain during acute episodes. Apply cold compress for a few minutes several times a day can help ease the pain and reduce swelling. In more severe cases, pain relievers and anti-inflammatory drugs such as NSAIDs and steroid injections might be prescribed to reduce inflammation and relieve pain.

Physiotherapy may be required to strengthen the muscles and correct techniques for required arm movements. In cases where activities cannot be avoided, wear braces or stress control tapes to minimize exertion. In extreme cases, surgery is the last resort to remove the damaged tendon.

TCM treatment and management

Unique to TCM, massage and acupuncture treatment have been clinically proven to be effective and efficient in the management of this condition. They are also often coupled with moxibustion and electroacupuncture to maximize treatment effects. Should you require such treatments, do approach any registered TCM physicians for professional help.

Self-care tips

Home care can be as simple as a daily massage. Using the palm, gently massage the forearm muscles for 2-3 minutes and rub the affected area till warm. After which, gently apply pressure to the acupoints listed below for 1 minute each. Do take note to be gentle to prevent new injuries.
  • A Shi Acupoint: Any sore or tender points along the affected area
  • Shou San Li Acupoint: Two finger-width distance down from the outer elbow joint
  • Qu Chi Acupoint: On outer end of the elbow crease
  • He Gu Acupoint: On the back of the palm, between the first and second finger
  • Shao Hai Acupoint: On the inner end of the elbow crease
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