Tennis elbow, also called lateral epicondylitis, is a repetitive stress injury. It involves inflammation of the tendons that hold your muscle and bone together on the outside of your elbow. Although it is an injury associated with playing tennis, other forms of repetitive forearm movement can cause it too. If you treat tennis elbow at home, you might be able to avoid needing medical treatment, which could involve physical therapy. (If you have already had pain for months, it’s best to seek professional help first, before trying a home treatment for tennis elbow.)
Is there a home treatment for tennis elbow? That depends upon the severity of the condition and whether there is a commitment to treatment and rehabilitation. Like anything else in this life, nothing comes without a price. The price of a tennis elbow home cure is time and energy as well as stopping the activities that caused the pain in the first place – at least until the pain has disappeared.
Tennis elbow is a painful and irritating injury, whether you got it from playing a racket sport or not. If you suffer from this condition, you know that waiting for it to go away just doesn’t cut it. The stiffness and pain not only affects your sports performance, but also can make everyday tasks a chore. Try this tennis elbow treatment you can do at home, right now.
Home Treatment for Tennis Elbow
Rest Your Elbow
It may seem like a simple treatment, but it’s effective if there is too much irritation or inflammation in the elbow area. Resting your arm and not subjecting it to the movements that triggered the inflammation and pain will help. You can still do your daily activities as long as you avoid movements and motions that could further irritate the tendons. When you resume your activity, do so slowly, and stop if you start to feel that familiar pain.
Use the “RICE Method” First (Rest, Ice, Compression & Elevation)
Once tennis elbow symptoms have become bad enough to cause you noticeable pain, the first step is to rest the area and stop repetitive movements that caused the condition in the first place. (3) You can use ice early on (especially following an injury) to help control swelling. Ice is most helpful within 24 to 48 hours after swelling sets in.
Try icing the elbow and forearm for 15 to 20 minutes at a time, several times per day. Compression and elevation also help keep inflammation from getting worse. It can helpful to temporarily wear a bandage, splint or brace to keep the inflamed tendon from becoming too swollen. Try tightly wrapping the area while also elevating it to reduce blood flow.
Once you do resume working out, be sure to rest properly between workouts. Rest is crucial for allowing worn-down tissue to repair itself. In fact, in between workouts is when we actually grow stronger.
Ice Your Elbow
Ice packs on your elbow can help reduce inflammation and pain. Don’t apply ice directly to your skin as this can damage it. Wrap the ice in a cloth or towel. Hold the ice pack in place for about 15 to 20 minutes at a time, 3 to 4 times a day. Some people use frozen peas that they keep in the freezer just for this purpose. They hold the cold well and the bag molds itself to the shape you need.
Perform Tennis Elbow Exercises and Stretches
It might seem counterintuitive, but in most mild-to-moderate cases of tennis elbow, moving the arm and elbow carefully can actually help break up stiffness and resolve symptoms. In other words, it’s not necessary, or even beneficial, to totally immobilize the arm or elbow if you’re diagnosed with tennis elbow (unless you have severe inflammation). With severe damage and inflammation around the elbow, swelling will likely cause arm immobility.
Dr. Ernest W. Johnson, an American physiatrist from Ohio State University, initially created muscle-strengthening exercises and programs for tennis below. He showed that eccentric and concentric movements of the wrist can help relieve pain by stopping the production of a dense collagenous scar in the attachment area between the elbow muscle and joint/tendon.
As long as you’re able to move your arm, try gently stretching and exercising the area to help break up tissue adhesions that actually make tennis elbow worse. At the same time, you want to be careful not to overexert the painful area. Always start these stretches and exercises slowly and be patient. Initially, aim to put the least amount of pressure on the elbow while still stretching it, and then increase resistance as time goes on. Keep an eye on your level of pain and only progress as your strength improves and symptoms decrease.
Stretches and exercises for tennis elbow include:
- Eccentric wrist stretch: Rest your forearm down on a table with your wrist hanging off the edge, palm up. Hold a very light weight (5 pounds or less) in your hand. Drop and lift your wrist slowly. Perform 10 repetitions, 3 times every other day. (5)
- Forearm extensor stretch: Keep your affected wrist bent in front of you. With your unaffected hand, reach over and grab the fingers of your affected hand, then pull them back to stretch the forearm. Hold for 30 seconds and perform twice daily.
- Tricep stretch: Bend your affected arm behind your back and put light pressure on the elbow using your good arm. Hold for 30 seconds and perform 3 times every other day.
- Ball squeeze hand-strengthener: Hold a tennis ball (or similar ball) in your hand. Practice gripping and squeezing. Start by squeezing for 3 second increments at a time, then work your way up to 10 seconds.
- As your strength increases, you can begin traditional bicep curls and hammer curls to keep the forearms strong.
A 2010 report published in the North American Journal of Sports Physical Therapy found that a new device called the FlexBar® could be used to perform exercises for tennis below. Researchers found that the bar could be even more effective than physical therapy or doing exercises on your own. In the study, patients used the Flexbar to perform 3 sets of 15 exercises each day, gradually gaining strength before increasing resistance intensity. On average, symptoms went away within 7 weeks. The study also found that patients performing the FlexBar exercises in addition to standard physical therapy enjoyed significantly more improvements than the group receiving only standard PT.
Compress and Provide Support
The RICE protocol is often the top recommendation for injuries like tennis elbow: R for rest, I for ice, C for compression, and E for elevate. Compression helps reduce muscle fatigue. Wrap a compression bandage around your elbow, tight enough that you can feel the compression. After applying the bandage, you should be able to move your fingers well. The skin temperature and color of the lower arm should be the same as the rest of your arm or the other arm. If you notice that your lower arm is cooler than the rest of your arm or the skin, remove the bandage immediately.
The Egoscue Method focuses on a series of gentle stretches and exercises to correct misalignments in the musculoskeletal system that contribute to pain and poor posture. Egoscue helps reduce tendon or joint pain by focusing on proper form when exercising or using various muscles. In fact, according to Egoscue theory, improper form is the real reason for tennis elbow, even more so than overuse.
In the case of tennis elbow, Egoscue focuses on correcting form of the shoulder, back and forearm muscles so that the elbow joints don’t become compromised and lose their full range of motion. Egoscue exercises for tennis elbow are relatively easy to remember and easy to practice at home. No matter what type of activity you’re doing, learning proper form and posture though Egoscue helps you better protect yourself from future injury and future pain.
Over-the-Counter Pain Relievers
If you can take over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve), these medicines can help relieve the pain by reducing inflammation. Be sure to follow the instructions to avoid side effects, like nausea. If the pain persists after a few days of using these medications, contact your doctor about prescription strength formulations of OTC pain relievers.
Consider Acupuncture Treatments
Acupuncture is a holistic health technique that stems from traditional Chinese medicine. It helps reduce pain by stimulating specific points on the body through the insertion of very thin, practically-painless needles. Studies show that compared to control groups, patients receiving acupuncture treatments report less pain, including fewer muscle aches and pain, osteoarthritis symptoms, and chronic headaches.
A 2001 study published in the Journal of Rheumatology found that after 2 weeks of acupuncture treatments, patients with tennis elbow experienced significant reductions in pain intensity. They also experienced better improvements in arm function compared to a control group. Even after 2 months, the acupuncture group continued to have better function than the group that didn’t receive acupuncture treatments
Brace Your Elbow
Braces that protect your elbow and give it support may also be helpful in reducing tennis elbow pain. Although braces are available in various stores, it may be best to talk with a physical therapist or your doctor first to ensure you get the right kind of brace and that you know how to apply it properly. You may also want to use products like KT tape (kinesiology tape). These tapes support the muscles and tendons but don’t limit movement like braces do. Elbow straps also provide compression and support, so they may be another option.
Control Pain Naturally
Other than icing the painful elbow, certain essential oils can help improve your condition and dull pain. For example, cypress essential oil works by improving circulation. Helichrysum oil helps repair damaged nerve tissue. Peppermint essential oil can also reduce pain, while frankincense increases healing by decreasing inflammation.
To use essential oils, mix several drops of one of the oils above with a carrier oil (like coconut oil) and apply the mixture to painful areas topically 3 times daily.
Adapt Your Technique
If you know what activity or activities caused the tennis elbow pain, you will need to adapt your techniques to reduce the pain and prevent a recurrence. If you are an athlete, check with a coach or athletic trainer about your technique while playing. You may need different equipment or adjust how you hold or use the equipment. If the problem is a repetitive task at work, research how you can make your workplace more ergonomic and safer for you. This could mean replacing a mouse with a trackpad, for example.
Manage Inflammation With a Healthy Diet
To help keep inflammation levels low, avoid processed foods including: added sugar, high-sodium foods (which increase water retention), foods high in saturated and refined fats, alcohol and processed grains (especially gluten-containing foods).
Anti-inflammatory foods that help your body repair damaged tissue include:
- All types of vegetables, especially green leafy greens
- High-quality “clean” proteins like wild-caught fish, raw dairy, cage-free eggs or grass-fed beef
- Berries, citrus fruits, melon and pineapple
- High-potassium and magnesium foods, including coconut water, avocados, greens, sweet potatoes and bananas
- Bone broth, which contains collagen to improve tissue health