Acupuncture for Tennis Elbow: Serve Relief, Smash the Pain

Aug 29, 2023
Acupuncture for Tennis Elbow: Serve Relief, Smash the Pain

Muscle overuse is one of the most common causes of pain among athletes and working individuals. If you are experiencing dull pain on the outer side of your elbow and forearm that gradually worsens after strenuous and repetitive activity, then you might have tennis elbow which is also known as lateral epicondylitis. Tennis elbow was named as it is because it is common among those who play tennis. Other individuals like dentists, chefs, and athletes in other sports can also experience pain and dysfunction due to lateral epicondylitis. 

How does this occur? As mentioned, the mechanism of injury for this condition is often due to repetitive stress and overuse which can further cause micro-tears on the tendons attached to the lateral epicondyle. Factors such as decreased regeneration capacity due to age, diet, and lifestyle can further add to the damage. 

What is the difference between golfer's elbow and tennis elbow? The significant difference is the structures affected between the two conditions and the location of pain. If you have golfer's elbow or medial epicondylitis, the pain is located on the inner side or medial aspect of the elbow where the tendons of the flexor muscles of the wrist are attached. On the other hand, the site of pain for those with tennis elbow or lateral epicondylitis is on the elbow and forearm's lateral or outer side. The most common muscle affected by the tennis elbow is the extensor carpi radialis brevis. The tendon of ECRB is attached to the lateral epicondyle found on the outer side of the elbow. Other extensor muscles of the wrist can also be affected as well as the supinator of the forearm. Because these muscles are affected, their corresponding actions can also be affected. Due to pain, you may experience difficulty turning doorknobs and gripping activities that will require you to supinate your forearm and extend your wrist. Your grip strength can also be affected and stiffness may be present, especially after a night of sleep. 

Studies show that most tennis elbow cases are self-limiting after 12 to 18 months. However, this may not be the case for some. Additionally, it's difficult to ask patients to stop and rest their forearms and hands for that long especially if that would cost their careers and income. That is why finding a real solution rather than a band-aid fix to this condition is best. Same with any other musculoskeletal pain, acupuncture and other traditional Chinese medicine modalities can help treat tennis elbow.

  1. The main reason why most people go for acupuncture is that they want to get rid of the pain. Acupuncture is proven to provide analgesic effects and may even be a better alternative to over-the-counter pain medicines which may come with side effects after long-term use. Similar to golfer's elbow, tennis elbow undergoes an inflammatory process. Repetitive and multiple micro-tears in the tendons make it difficult for the tissues to heal fully. The role of acupuncture treatment is to promote blood circulation at the site of injury. This may be done when needles are inserted locally at the injury site. In a more technical sense with TCM, tennis elbow may be caused by different problems with Qi like stagnation or deficiency. To move the Qi, acupuncture needles may also be inserted in different areas of your body and that's why you shouldn't be surprised on your first acupuncture treatment if your acupuncturist also inserts needles far from your lateral elbow. 
  2. Depending on the severity of your lateral epicondylitis, your treatment plan may also include medical massage, gua sha, and cupping. Different techniques have different goals. The massage and gua sha may help in dealing with the adhesions in your muscles because of the disrupted degeneration and regeneration process. However, gua sha and cupping may be contraindicated if severe inflammation is active during your appointment. Your acupuncturist will explain your condition and treatment plan so don't be afraid to ask questions!
  3. Herbs have been part of ancient medical practice and plant derivatives are continuously being used by modern medicine. Certified herbalists like Dr. Ting Wu can create herbal concoctions suited to your condition. For those with tennis elbow and golfer's elbow, herbal soaking may be added to your treatment plan. Components of these herbs may help to decrease pain and inflammation so you can perform more functional tasks. Herbal medications can also eliminate toxins in our body that causes other injuries and illness.

A proper diet is necessary to help your body heal itself. Exercises to strengthen the forearm muscles should also be done. Lastly, always remember to listen to your body. Take a rest when you feel that you're about to reach your limit. To book for acupuncture consultation and treatment, you may contact us at (646)-883-8321.


Reference:Vaquero-Picado, A., Barco, R., & Antuña, S. A. (2017). Lateral epicondylitis of the elbow. EFORT open reviews1(11), 391–397. https://doi.org/10.1302/2058-5241.1.000049