Acupuncture to treat tennis elbow

Despite its name, tennis elbow is not restricted to tennis player. This condition is in fact a relatively common affliction which affects many people from different walks of life. In this article we look at whether acupuncture can offer itself as a viable solution to tennis elbow.

What is tennis elbow?

Also known as lateral epicondylitis or lateral elbow pain, tennis elbow affects the outer part of the affected joint which becomes both painful and tender to the touch. While many people playing racquet sports are susceptible to tennis elbow, the condition also commonly affects people involved in activities like climbing, swimming, manual work, and even just day to day tasks in some cases. These activities all place stress on the outside of the elbow, leaving it vulnerable to damage and injury.

This particular type of injury is classed as an overuse injury which affects a particular tendon on the outside of the elbow called the extensor tendon. This is a structure connecting bone to muscle, and damage to it is responsible for the acute pain experienced by sufferers who fully extend their arms. It is thought that overextension might be the main form injury damaging this tendon and causing the condition.

As previously mentioned, the most noticeable and characteristic symptoms are pain on the outside of the elbow, tenderness around this area, pain during the extension of the arm and during gripping movements and wrist extension, and stiffness and discomfort in the limb in the morning.

Treatment of tennis elbow varies depending on the severity of the condition. Physical therapy is extremely helpful and can be enough to encourage recovery if the injury isn’t too severe, particularly in conjunction with some medications. Physical therapy involves manipulations of the joint in the hands of an experienced physiotherapist, who will also supply a collection of stretches and exercises that will strengthen the joint and promote its recovery. In many cases, a physio might recommend packing the joint with ice or applying heat where necessary to promote the recovery of the limb.

Medications used to treat tennis elbow are usually anti-inflammatory drugs like NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) or corticosteroids. These can only be used in the short term as their prolonged use can cause unpleasant side effects.

Where necessary, surgical treatments can be used to treat tennis elbow.

How is acupuncture used to treat tennis elbow?

Acupuncture is an alternative medical practice steeped in history and controversy, with many of its uses subject to debate and uncertainty. Originally developed in ancient China, acupuncture has proven to be a useful tool complementing existing therapies in certain circumstances. While more and more research is being performed into acupuncture, its effectiveness in some areas requires further research before any solid conclusions can be drawn.

What evidence there is investigating the usefulness of acupuncture in the treatment of tennis elbow suggests that regular acupuncture can promote recovery. Comparisons between acupuncture and placebos showed a substantially greater rate of recovery and reduction in pain. While not a replacement for existing treatment strategies, acupuncture can potentially support physical therapy and short-term medicinal treatment to improve outcomes of tennis elbow.

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