Tennis Elbow Alternatives

“If a doctor wants to treat your tennis elbow with a shot of cortisone,” says Robert P. Nirschl, M.D., “find another physician.” Nirschl, author of a new book titled Arm Care, has a completely different approach to treating lateral condylitis than the old ice-rest-aspirin-cortisone therapy.

According to Nirschl, what happens in tennis elbow is “a heart attack of the tendon.” Either the protein in the tendon has broken down or some of the blood vessels in the area have become blocked. The tissue is unhealthy (semi-dead), and unhealthy tissue hurts. Nirschl even has a different name for this condition. He refers to it as tendinosis, not tendinitis.

Once diagnosed, the object of treatment should be to revitalize the tendon that has suffered the “heart attack.” This renewal involves developing new blood vessels and new production of protein. Since the tissue has no inflammatory cells, there is no inflammation to control.

How are new vessels and protein produced? One or two weeks of rest is sufficient, followed by rehabilitation exercises of muscles in the forearm, upper arm, and shoulder area. Tennis elbow is a problem that may involve other parts of the arm. Some players with tennis elbow have also injured the muscles of the rotator cuff. Others have wrist problems. That is the reason for exercises that strengthen the entire length of the arm, including the shoulder.

Here are some examples of tennis elbow rehab exercises:

wrist curls – palms up, using dumbbells
wrist rollers – palms down, rolling up a light weight attached to a cord
bent-over rows – body bent at waist, lifting a dumbbell until it touches the chest
upright barbell rows – standing straight, palms down, lifting a barbell to the chest
shoulder shrugs – lifting shoulders while holding dumbbells at side
bicep curls – palms up, flexing arms, lifting dumbbells from a straight arm position

Don’t play tennis to get your arm in shape. Get your arm in shape to play tennis by using the exercises described above. Rather than treat weakened, damaged muscles that have been overused, it makes more sense to strengthen them ahead of time to prevent tennis elbow.

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