Tennis elbow is very common problem not only here in New Zealand but also in China. And surprisingly, it is often not caused by tennis. Body builders can get it from repetitive weight lifting stressing the elbow joint and carpenters from excessive swinging of the hammer. In fact even the sedentary and relaxing art of knitting can even cause tennis elbow, also known as lateral epicondylitis. The tendons attaching from the muscles to the bone become inflamed often giving an almost pin pointed pain right on the edge of the bone at the elbow.
Is rest important in the recovery process?
Rest is an important component of the rehabilitation and recovery process but because people are eager to go back to work or resume sport, the injury can keep getting delayed in the recuperation process. Often people resort to anti-inflammatories and even so, the time to recover can take up to 12-18 months. I was surprised to hear that in New Zealand more people do not use acupuncture and Chinese medicine for this condition, especially as it covered by ACC in many instances.
Is tennis elbow more common in middle age?
What is interesting with tennis elbow is that the common age for it to appear is around the 40 years age mark. This is because in Chinese Chinese medicine we say that the liver controls the tendons and over work can deplete the liver energy and its blood supply to nourish tendons. This is why some practitioners who just do local treatment at the area of pain get limited results because the root cause cause of the problem is not being addressed as well. Patients are often surprised when I first put needles in the stomach and legs as part of the treatment protocol to help the liver when treating tennis elbow.
Would you use ice on the inflamed area?
This is not in line with traditional medicine thinking and for further reading in reference to this matter please visit here. Traditional medicine actually uses heat from moxibustion to treat the inflammation. There are particular acupuncture points near the elbow but away from the actual pain area where we apply the burning herb mugwort to the end of the needle to supplement and tonify the area to make it stronger because we know the problem happened in the first place because of a long slow developing weakness. Then we use what is called direct moxibustion where we use a cone of the herb directly on the skin at the painful spot to transfer the heat out of the area. A bit like fighting fire with fire.
What about massage?
The Chinese medical system of massage known as Tui Na is often used in the treatment of tennis elbow. Again the massage techniques may not always be close to the painful spots. I often use techniques involving rubbing and friction on the back inside near the shoulder blade.
Do you recommend strapping?
Strapping in my opinion does little to promote the recuperation process but instead just prevents the patient from doing certain stretching and lifting movements that trigger pain. I make use of traditional herbal medicine plasters that are applied and used in between acupuncture visits. The herbs are specifically to improve blood circulation and nourish tendons according to traditional medicine thinking.