“Tennis elbow” gets its name because many people get this type of repetitive use injury from playing tennis and other sports that involve holding a racquet. Although the terms of these conditions pertain to sports, people who perform repetitive tasks that tax the muscles and tendons of the elbow, forearm, wrist, and hand and involve gripping an object, such as painting, hammering, and sawing (construction workers), cutting or chopping (cooks, chefs, butchers), using a wrench (plumbers), or other activities are also at risk in obtaining this.
Also known as lateral epicondylitis, this is a kind of tendonitis or inflammation of the soft tissues of the forearm. Tendonitis happens when the soft tissues that joint muscles to bones sustain microtears and become inflamed. Over time and with overuse, the tendons that attach the extensor carpi radialis brevis (ECRB) to the bones can become torn and inflamed. Pain and weakness in the elbow and wrist can make it hard to perform everyday actions.
Medial epicondylitis is a similar condition and an overuse injury that causes weakness and pain in the forearm (golfer’s elbow); it affects the tendon that connects muscles to the bone inside your elbow. The difference is that the inflammation and micro-tearing occur in the muscles and tendons involved in flexing the arm rather than extending it or bending the wrist inward towards the palm with plenty of force or speed.
These elbow pains or inflammations can be resolved with rest, but complete rest is not always feasible for many. Acupuncture treatment has been shown to help provide significant pain relief for this kind of ailment. Acupuncture treatment helps to reduce inflammation and improve blood flow to injured areas to aid and speed the healing of various types of tendonitis.
The symptoms of these elbow ailments/conditions are as follows:
- outside elbow has a dull ache
- pain when making a fist
- pain when opening the fingers
- soreness around the affected elbow area (either inner or outer elbow)
- weakness in grip
- difficulties and pain when trying to grab items
Effectiveness of Acupuncture for these Elbow Conditions
Traditional Chinese Medicine uses a variety of methods to cure orthopedic pain conditions, including acupuncture treatment, electro-acupuncture, moxibustion, cupping, Tui Na massage, exercise, and Chinese herbs in formulations for both internal (tea or pills) and external (pain patches) use. This multi-pronged approach can be very effective for reducing pain in the short term while helping tissues to heal over time. Sports acupuncture is a modernized form of this practice. It can be effective in conjunction or as an alternative to other therapies.
There are some sports acupuncture procedures used to treat elbow injuries, including:
Electroacupuncture – a device attached to acupuncture needles that delivers electrical impulses at points. The stimulation acts like a computer reboot for the targeted areas, activating weak or inhibited muscles and relaxing overactive or tight muscles.
Dry needling – acupuncture needles are inserted to relieve tightened muscles. Dry needling can help break up muscle knots or hot spots causing pain.
Needle retention – Acupuncture needles are inserted and left in place for 15 to 30 minutes, depending on muscle tightness or weakness severity.
A controlled study in which patients suffering from lateral epicondylitis were divided into three groups and treated with either massage or acupuncture or a combination of both, showed that patients who received the combination treatment experienced, for the most part, complete recovery after twenty sessions. 1
Another controlled study that compared people suffering from chronic tennis elbow who were treated with real acupuncture versus sham acupuncture showed that at both the two-week mark and the two-month mark, people who had received acupuncture reported less pain and improved function of the arm joints. 2
An acupuncture point stimulated to help with (tennis elbow) pain is located right in the elbow crease (LI11 or large intestine meridian 11). This point, when stimulated either by pressure or by acupuncture needles, can help move blood and Qi through the joint – bringing relief from tennis elbow pain.
Athletes and active people of all ages need to care for their bodies appropriately to avoid injuries leading to chronic pain. Adding acupuncture to your health regimen is an excellent way of providing essential maintenance for your body. Acupuncture treatment, therapeutic massage, and a good nutrition program can help keep your joints moving smoothly without pain.