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Should You Wear a Tennis Elbow Support?

Should You Wear a Tennis Elbow Support? Barefoot Rehabilitation Clinic
tennis-elbow-support

10 Oct Should You Wear a Tennis Elbow Support?

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All of your friends are wearing a tennis elbow support and you’re wondering:

Should I wear a tennis elbow support too?

Peer pressure is a powerful thing.

You worry about the kids your son or daughter hang out with because you know, what their friends are doing, your son or daughter will be following along.

The saying applies here for you too:

If you friend jumped off a bridge, would you do it too?

Sometimes, following your friends and jumping off the bridge is a good thing.

Friends that exercise means you’ll prioritize exercise.

When it comes to the tennis elbow support clan, let your friends jump off without you.

You stay right where you are. I’ll show you where the kids who get out of annoying, frustrating pain hang out.

This is Unconventional Advice for Tennis Elbow

If you wear (or are considering wearing) a tennis elbow support, you have elbow pain.

Side Note: I’m all for compression sleeves of the elbow. I’m not for sleeves that apply pressure in a small surface area of a body part like tennis elbow supports.

You’ve probably tried ice, heat, and maybe even massage.

When the pain didn’t go away, you became frustrated because you wanted to keep playing tennis. Your friends were wearing braces and they said to you:

The brace helps enormously. Wear one so we can get our game on!

So you did.

Unfortunately, your friend is not a doctor. Which means, you’ve never had your elbow looked at in order to be diagnosed.

Pain guarantees that there’s a problem.

Sure, you could take pain medications, rub stuff, get adjusted, and avoid what hurts.  None of this is addressing the root of the problem.

The #1 thing the tennis elbow support is doing is:

Addressing only the tip of the iceberg, allowing you to avoid the massive foundation of the iceberg underneath the surface.

problem-underneath-the-surface

There is research and reputable physical therapists recommending use of tennis elbow supports.

The study linked above said grip strength increases with less pain when tennis elbow supports are used. I agree.

What I disagree with is how to get rid of the pain.

  • You could use a support to decrease pain, like putting a “band-aid” on the issue. OR …
  • You could address the problem to decrease the pain.

Using a tennis elbow support is ignorance. Wearing the brace won’t get rid of the problems that caused the tennis elbow. In fact, it will help to grow the problem.

Only in viewing every piece of the problem can we put the pain puzzle together again to remove the pain permanently.

What is a Tennis Elbow Support Actually Doing?

Tennis elbow is either a tendonitis or a tendinosis.  I won’t define those two terms here.

Regardless of which problem is, your tendon isn’t happy.

It’s been taking excessive stress for sometime now, likely because your forearms are glued down with adhesion. And it’s letting you know by crying out.

Adhesion looks like this:what-is-adhesion

So, you take an elbow strap and artificially create a “new” tendon by pinning down the muscles 1” away from your tendon.

Lo and behold, No pain!

Little did you know, you’ve just started the process of creating the exact same problem (adhesion) right under where your strap is located.

Theoretically, when the pain ramps up again, you’ll just keep moving the strap to healthy tissue, making it sick there, until you have no forearm to move the strap.

Finally your tendon gets to Nirschl Stage 7 of tendinosis, you can’t sleep without pain, and you need surgery.

That’s the worst case scenario of using a support.

There is A Better Way for Tennis Elbow

Sure, you could try massage. You could take a lacrosse ball and jam it into your forearm. There’s also ice, heat, and electronic stim. You could keep doing the same stuff you’re doing.

Or …

You could understand the problem and do something about that.

This makes sense to people. What stops you is most often is the practicality of following through.

So, to help you be more practical and address the root of the problem, I’ll elaborate a little more. You’re going to be crystal clear about how to get out of pain, once and for all.

Tennis elbow starts as overuse (too much tennis) that creates glue (known as adhesion) in the forearm muscles way before you ever experience pain. As that glue snowballs and gets thicker, your forearms get tighter and tighter until the tendon can’t take the stresses anymore and you feel pain.

Observing your problem through a realistic, true lens, hopefully allows you to feel empowered to now address what’s really going on with your body.

Comprehensive Treatment for Tennis Elbow, when a true tendinitis is present, includes:

  1. MAR/IAR to remove the adhesion from the forearm. Find a provider here.
  2. Time/anti-inflammation techniques to let the inflammation in the tendon go away. Eat your vegetables, proteins, and healthy fats. Sleep at least 8 hours a night. Be patient, like you’re cultivate a seed into a flower into a fruit. This takes time.
  3. Do Cross-training such as yoga or moderate intensity functional strength movements to strengthen all of the areas of the body, focusing on the upper body.
  4. Load management to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Load = the work you do. Monitoring when your symptoms start (i.e. 60 minutes into tennis) means that you should keep your work load under that threshold until you have greater capacity (i.e. abillity) to play more.

Another way to think of load management is like this.

Load is the blue water. The black bucket is your capacity. You get symptoms (spilling out of your bucket) when you do too much.  Continue playing tennis only when you’re pain-free.

symptoms-when-bucket-overflows

Comprehensive Treatment for Tennis Elbow, when a tendinosis is present, is slightly different:

Same as above with the addition of

  • Eccentric Exercises to strengthen the degenerated tendon. 2×15 reps.

With the subtraction of:

  • Anti-inflammation techniques because there is no inflammation. Time is required due to the dosage of treatment to remove adhesion and exercise the tendon.

Notice with both treatment plans above, there is no puzzle piece that includes wearing the support. Doing so would be encouraging the problem to grow.

Don’t wear one.

speechbubblesHow has your tennis elbow progressed? What’s helping or not helping? Share your thoughts or comments below.

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Dr. Chris Stepien, DC, Full-Body ID Certified, ART Certified, CSCS, and CrossFit Level 1 Certified, is a Sports Therapy & Chronic Pain Resolution Specialist with Barefoot Rehab in Parsippany, NJ.  When you're in pain that hasn't gone away and you've been to at least 3 other doctors, Dr. Chris wants to help you. And when you're sad, depressed, or not enjoying life, Dr. Chris wants to hug you. He invites you to reach out, no matter what your concern is. Barefoot Rehab is here to serve you.
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