By P.J. Simmons
Count your blessings if you’ve never had tennis elbow (aka “computer elbow” or “mouse elbow” because it also strikes folks who spend hours at the computer). Known as “lateral epicondylitis“, it’s a condition that can cause an intense, searing pain and is really stubborn to treat. I recently discovered a relatively new, cheap and simple tennis elbow treatment out there that actually works (or at least it did miraculously for me and seems to for thousands of others)– but because it’s new very few players and coaches seem to know about it. So I hope this post helps spread the word to those who are suffering from tennis elbow pain or have friends who are. Note: if you’ve ever had golfers elbow (medial epicondylitis) this post hopefully can help you too.
Tennis elbow is usually brought on by overuse and/or, as it was in my case, performing a 1-handed backhand or volley the wrong way (I strongly recommend if you have tennis elbow that you ask an outstanding tennis pro to take a close look at biomechanics of your stroke to see if they can pinpoint any contributing factors). It’s a condition that has confounded doctors and researchers for years, which in practice has meant that players have been left with some not-so-helpful common advice for treatment including the dreaded “Ice, ibuprofen, and rest” coupled with some old-school strengthening exercises (e.g. squeezing balls) that I found to have very limited effectiveness.
I’ve had tennis elbow twice– the first time was relatively mild and happened only a few months into getting into tennis in 2008. It happened at a time when I had a few other injuries that forced me to take a month off from tennis altogether, so it healed on its own. The second flare-up in 2010 was much more painful– and much more problematic. At the time, I had a crushing workload and couldn’t imagine taking time to go to physical therapy. I tried to back off playing for a while and do the ice/ibuprofen thing but it just kept getting worse (working at a computer 10 hours a day didn’t help). I got online and researched the heck out of treatments and exercises for tennis elbow.Eventually I discovered one very promising sounding and cheap tool to cure tennis elbow through a New York Times article called the “Theraband Flexbar.” It sounded too good to be true: researchers from the Nicholas Institute of Sports Medicine and Athletic Trauma at Lenox Hill Hospital in NYC had come up with the tool as an inexpensive and at-home treatment alternative to “in-clinic machine-assisted or injection treatments”– and a study in the Journal of Shoulder and Elbow Surgery and a subsequent study validated the effectiveness.
I ordered the green (medium resistance) Theraband Flexbar for around $25 and set out to do the “Tyler Twist” tennis elbow exercise shown in the video below (named after the physical therapist and lead researcher Tim Tyler PT) for about 5 minutes a day, 3 sets of 15 repetitions.
Another view of the “Tyler Twist” exercise:
My research suggested I’d see big improvement within 2 weeks if I stuck to this simple regimen. I made a pact with myself that I would take a week off from playing and give this a serious shot. 7 days passed and I didn’t feel much change. I was dying to get back on the court so I did. But I kept doing the 5 minutes a day. Somewhere around the 10th day I sensed a big breakthrough — much less elbow pain when performing the exercise and working on my computer. And miraculously, by the 14th day my elbow pain was pretty much gone. I kept up the 5 minutes a day for another week or so as a preventative measure, then put the Flexbar in my tennis bag and used it for a few minutes before I stepped onto the court as part of my warm-up routine. Since then, no recurrences of tennis elbow despite dramatically upping the intensity of my training. Today I keep the Flexbar near the TV and do that exercise once in a while just to keep things strong.
Finally, for any golfers out there it turns out the reverse version of the Tyler Twist is really effective for golfer’s elbow:
The best $25 investment I’ve ever made!
* (Top photo credit: I took this of James Blake at 2011 US Open match against David Ferrer)