According to the Mayo Clinic the definition of Tennis Elbow is, “a painful condition that occurs when tendons in your elbow are overworked, usually by repetitive motions of the wrist and arm.” The medical term for Tennis Elbow is Lateral Epicondylitis. Pain usually occurs at the origin of the forearm tendons right where they attach to the bone (lateral epicondyle) on your elbow joint. It can also get painful further down into the forearm and wrist. The British Journal of Sports Medicine states that the annual incidence of tennis elbow is considered high at 1-3% of the adult population.
A key contributing factor that may make you more vulnerable to tennis elbow are preexisting shortened wrist flexors and conversely lengthened weak wrist extensors. Repeatedly gripping and flexing the wrist inward will shorten your wrist flexors over time. When the wrist flexors are chronically shortened your wrist extensors become lengthened and weak. You rely on wrist extensors if you extend your wrist while hitting a tennis ball with your back hand. Even if you don’t extend your wrist with your backhand swing it still contracts to stabilize your wrist through the swing and respond to the impact of the ball against the raquet. If we rely on a lengthened weak muscle to perform it will lack strength and make it more prone to injury. For this reason it is paramount to make sure that your wrist flexors are not shortened and overpowering your wrist extensors. It’s OK to stretch the wrist extensors but avoid that if you are currently having an acute flare up of pain.
A simple wrist flexor stretch held for 1 minute can make a big difference to manage and avoid tennis elbow. Hold your arm straight out in front of you with the palm of your hand facing upward. Make sure your elbow is completely straight, take your opposing hand and place it on the fingers of the wrist you are stretching (the palm-up hand). Gently press the fingers and hand of the wrist you are stretching toward the ground until you feel a mild stretch in your forearm. Hold that position for 1 full minute while breathing deeply. Deep or forceful stretching is not advised and not as effective. Effective stretching takes time, focus and moderation while doing the stretch accurately. Stop immediately if you experience pain. And finally any sustained stretch should be done after your game, not before.
If you need a warm up routine for prevention of tennis elbow, I can recommend more. As a matter of fact there’s a lot more where that came from so contact me if you need help.
Michael Julien, L.Ac., c.SMA