How to Cure Tennis Elbow (and Golfer’s Elbow) in 5 Minutes a Day
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.
You can order the Theraband Flexbar directly on Amazon: click here for Green (medium tension lbs) and here for Red (lighter tension). Note: I had great success with the GREEN Flexbar, but the RED (lighter) or YELLOW (lightest) Flexbars might be a better starting level for some, especially anyone experiencing very acute symptoms.
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)
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Hey PJ – It hurts quite a bit when I use the theraband. Did it hurt you too? Do you have to work through the pain? Did you ice after you used it?
Hey Malcolm, a general rule when doing physical therapy exercises is if it hurts beyond mild discomfort (i.e. comfortable soreness) it’s ill advised — especially without supervision of a doctor or physical therapist. You may be using one of the “colors” that has too much tension; I’d recommend trying the YELLOW to see if that feels better. Above all, however, I’d recommend go to a good sports doc and/or physical therapist with experience treating tennis elbow. Hope you get some relief soon! P.J.
Great comments! By chance I came to hear of the Flexbar and it has been awesome. Started playing tennis a year ago and decided that I was going to play with a “one-handed backhand.” Glad I did, but “Tennis Elbow” hit me about 3 1/2 months ago; pretty bad! Laid off tennis about 1 month, but tried to stay active with cardio, etc. Ordered the green Flexbar about 1 month ago. I’ve been diligent in doing just a few specific stretches with the bar each day. I would say my arm is 95%. Now I play tennis 3-4 times per… Read more »
I fought tennis elbow for two years before being turned on to the famous NY Times article that described this treatment. I have the green flexbar and did the exercises as described. I was nearly fully healed after about 2 weeks. Note that it’s a bit counter intuitive to do exercises on something that hurts. I also manually massaged the area.
Hope my experience and learnings will help others. I ended up having surgery after much frustration. Been close to 1.5 years since my surgery and around 8 months since I started playing again and been able to keep it away after making changes to forehand technique to keep wrist firm through the shot, moving to multifilament string and following a regimen of warmup, stretching and weights. Have heard about the Thera band and couple of my friends have recommended it since it is helping them. Will add this to my regimen as well. Thanks for the post. You can read… Read more »
Hey, thanks for the tip on the flex bar. I’ve just ordered one. The change that has made the biggest impact for me was altering to a softer string. Definitely think about how stiff your racket is and if you are using a hard poly. I have swapped to a softer poly and only on mains and the difference is huge when I come off court now. Admittedly, messing around with strings takes patience and can cost as you get such different feedback when you soften the string. I went from Luxilon Alu rough to Luxilon Element and they play… Read more »
Ok so my story starts around October 2014. I had been doing p-90 x3 for around 4 months and had really stepped up the amount of pull ups and push ups if been doing. Well needless to say I over did it ended up with tennis elbow in the left and golfers elbow in both arms. I’ve found out over the last ten months or so it’s s pretty depressing condition. That December I bought the yellow,red and blue bars. I tried using them like showed on the package it just worsened the condition. Needless to say they got thrown… Read more »
I have also seen some people use the flexbar one-handed by holding the free end against a desk or similar.
I’m currently dealing with tennis elbow for the 2nd time (the first was 12 years ago in high school). Physical therapy is helping but not as much as I’d like and my insurance won’t pay for more visits. I bought a red flexbar to use at home along with stretching and icing to supplement the lack of PT. However what is the proper amount of Flexbar workouts a week I should be doing?? I’ve read three times, to 5 times a week, to daily. Anyone know what the recommendation is for first time users? I’m avoiding cortisone shots since every… Read more »
Hey Dave, I’ve been there and empathize. Everyone is different and I’m not a PT, so I’m hesitant to give advice… What worked for me was (1) cut out tennis for 2 weeks (painful, but I knew it was necessary) (2) spend 5 minutes a day doing 3 sets of 15 repetitions with about a minute rest between each set. Also, the red bar is very high tension– you may want to try the green. As I mentioned in my post above, it took about 10 days to suddenly feel like things were getting better. So be patient. Above all,… Read more »
Good idea to rest while the tendonitis heals. The healing can be supported by the Kinesiology Tape seen everywhere. Just apply gently stretching the tape, and anchor the end without stretch. 5-6 days will last a tape. You can restart tennis when the pain is gone. It is another good idea to wear the tape all the time to prevent future injuries. I had such an amazing recovery that I got into the import of the tape. A real good way to recover from the tennis elbow is to get myofascial (deep tissue) massage from an expert. See the clinical… Read more »
I have fibromyalgia and even during my worst flares it has never hurt as bad….made me feel as bad…made me as cranky….ruined as many days…AS TENNIS ELBOW!!!! My doctor recommended a flexbar. I was looking around for user reviews when I stumbled across your article. I feel hope!! I’m trying to stay away from the cortisone/steroid shots. I walk around, literally all day, with frozen peas attached to my arm with an ace bandage. It’s the only relief I get! I take approx. 6500 mg of Ibuprofen, per day! It’s ridiculous. Ordering a flexbar right now! Thank you for mentioning… Read more »
Crystal, I’m glad the post gave you some optimism! If there’s any way you can have a physical therapist guide you through the process, even if just for one visit to check your form and give you encouragement, I’d recommend it. I always find during injuries having a PT is reassuring and keeps me on track. Otherwise, do watch the videos carefully in terms of how to do the movement and make sure you’re also avoiding whatever things might be exacerbating the acute pain (i.e., playing tennis, using a computer mouse with the affected arm, etc). Good luck and keep… Read more »
Hi, I have been suffering from Golfer Elbow since last 2 years and tried almost everything along with 2 Cartesion injections except PRP injection and surgery. I saw Flexbar exercise and started with Red one on 7th Sept so today is 13th day. I have started with Green one now. Initially I had sourness in forearm which is no more however, stiffness and pain near to elbow bone/joint is not going away. Straightening the hand always pains. When I touch it I can’t find the pain in forearm but only in elbow joint near to bone where tendon is attached… Read more »
Hey there, so sorry to hear about this – I know how hard it is to be away from the courts when injured. My only advice (player-to-player, I’m not a doctor!) given the long history of the injury and the fact that you feel like you’re not making progress at this point would be to get back to a doctor ASAP with expertise in sports medicine and physical therapist (or second opinion if you’ve already tried that route). Hope you get some relief!
Thanks for the post P.J. After I demoed Pure Drive GT, I felt my elbow a bit sore, it happened during the time I changed strings on Head M.P. racket to poly and played an event with that and the pain in elbow was very acute, glad to have lost the match rather quickly. Then somehow remembered to look in your post and thank goodness found your suggestion of Thera band and to not expect miracles right away. Took 4 days off from tennis and after receiving the thera band did the exercise morning, evening for about 10 repetitions, then… Read more »
Hey Ravi, so glad you found it helpful! Do stay patient and diligent about the exercises during recovery and make sure you don’t rush back into reps on the court too soon. I’d also consider having someone film your BH (assume you have a 1-hander if you think that’s an issue?) and share it with some top pros for a diagnosis of technique. In addition, check out my friend Dr. Neeru Jayanthi’s video talking about technique focal points to avoid tennis elbow with the 1H backhand here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=denxhQuqhR4 Keep me posted! PJ
My doctor recommended a golf ball muscle roller for my golfers elbow, worked very well and reduced the soreness, seriously check it out! http://zzathletics.com/Golf-Ball-Muscle-Roller-Massager-GBMR1.htm
My doctor also recommended some sort of muscle roller. He recommended PT, when I immediately balked he said they would use the muscle roller in PT; might as well use it at home. Sounds like it feels amazing! I’m always massaging my forearms b/c the tendons are so dang tight!
…and computer work, 8 hours a day. I’ll take a week off when this thing gets here, do it every day, and buy a tommie copper sleeve for the elbow. I’ll post the results, by October 14th.
Oh sweet jesus god in heaven thank you. I’m ordering mine as soon as I get home. I have pain from pushups and pullups, so we’ll see if this works. I’ll take a week off, too.
Hey great to hear it – keep me posted! And keep the faith while doing it.. as I mentioned for me it took about 10 days before I noticed much difference, then it was quick progress after that.
Thanks so much for your story as I was getting discouraged with my own tennis elbow. I had it once before and didn’t want to go through the whole doctor and therapy thing again so I brought a Theraband Flexbar. I guess I was expecting miracles because I have only been trying this for 3 days with no pain relief. Now that I know it will take much longer then I expected I won’t feel so bad. It was so nice of you to post this, it was very helpful.
I’m so glad it was helpful. Seriously do hang in there: I know how discouraging injuries can be, especially nagging tennis elbow. I remember feeling like I was about to give up on the 10th or so day… and only then did I actually start feeling improvement. I DID force myself also to pull back on training a bit during that time, which I think was also very important. Please let me know how it turns out! P.J.
Nice read, I just passed this onto a colleague who was doing some research on that. And he just bought me lunch because I found it for him smile Therefore let me rephrase that: Thank you for lunch!