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Have Tennis Or Golfer's Elbow? Sports Acupuncture May Help

Every time you pick up a tennis racket or golf club, your elbow gets a workout. Over time, those repetitive arm movements can cause elbow injuries, including two conditions known as tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow.

Tennis elbow affects the muscles on the outside of the elbow. Golfer’s elbow impacts the muscles that attach to the inside of the elbow bone.

You don’t have to be an athlete to experience the discomfort of these conditions. People who perform repetitive tasks with their hands during work or other activities are also at risk.

More people are turning to sports acupuncture to relieve elbow pain and speed recovery. “This modernized form of acupuncture has been shown to provide effective treatment for orthopedic injuries,” says Thomas Betts, a certified sports acupuncturist at Henry Ford Health. “It’s one more tool to help people return to the activities they enjoy.”

What Are Tennis Elbow And Golfer’s Elbow?

Tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow often occur because of overuse or trauma. Using improper form during activities or skipping warm-ups can also increase your risk for injury. Here’s how these conditions affect your ability to pick up, lift or twist objects:

  • Tennis elbow (lateral epicondylitis): This condition affects the tendon that attaches the forearm muscles to the outside of your elbow. These muscles support your forearm as you move your wrist. Repetitive motions, such as swinging a tennis racket, cause these muscles to tear.

  • Golfer’s elbow (medial epicondylitis): Golfer’s elbow affects the tendon that connects muscles to the bone inside your elbow.

Both conditions cause pain, weakness, stiffness, and tingling in your elbow, forearm, and wrist. Treatment options include over-the-counter pain relievers, cortisone injections, physical therapy, and surgery. Sports acupuncture adds another minimally invasive treatment option to restore pain-free movement.

How Does Sports Acupuncture Treat Elbow Injuries?

The traditional Chinese medicine practice of acupuncture involves inserting very thin, sterile needles into points along your body to restore energy. Sports acupuncture is a modernized form of this practice. It can be effective in conjunction or as an alternative to other therapies.

“Sports acupuncture offers the greatest benefit when performed as part of your treatment soon after an injury occurs,” says Dr. Betts.

There are several sports acupuncture techniques used to treat elbow injuries, including:

  • Electroacupuncture: With this therapy, a device attached to acupuncture needles delivers electrical impulses at points on your forearm. The stimulation acts like a computer reboot for the targeted areas, activating weak or inhibited muscles and relaxing overactive or tight muscles.

  • Dry needling: With this approach, 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.

These techniques also stimulate healing by bringing oxygenated blood to flush out toxins and lactic acid that contribute to inflammation.

What To Expect During Sports Acupuncture Treatment

Plan to spend approximately 60 minutes at your first acupuncture appointment. At that visit, a sports acupuncturist will review your medical history and assess your injury by asking:

  • What caused the injury?

  • When and where does it hurt?

  • What, if anything, makes it feel better?

  • What makes it feel worse?

Next, the acupuncturist discusses your treatment options and begins therapy. Most patients describe little or no pain during treatment. That’s because acupuncture needles are very thin, measuring less than a millimeter.

After the initial one-hour visit, your acupuncturist will schedule 30- to 45-minute follow-up sessions. On average, patients with elbow injuries receive six treatments over three weeks. Your treatment plan may vary depending on the severity of your injury.

While you can return to sports and other activities immediately after treatment, consider taking a rest day. “This break extends the benefits of therapy, reducing pain and inflammation,” says Dr. Betts.

Tips For Recovering From And Preventing Elbow Injuries

Acupuncture can also enhance sports performance and prevent future injuries. To extend the benefits, Dr. Betts recommends adopting these strategies:

  • Do strength training: Incorporate weights or resistance bands into your exercise program to build endurance, increase muscle mass and support healthy bones.

  • Eat a balanced diet: Enjoy meals with anti-inflammatory foods like fresh fruits and vegetables. Avoid foods that cause inflammation, such as processed foods, gluten, dairy products, and sugar.

  • Focus on your form: Pay attention to your technique while using your arms during sports, work, or other activities. Talk with an acupuncturist, physical therapist, physician, or athletic trainer to ensure proper form and avoid injury.

  • Stay hydrated: Aim to drink about 64 ounces of water daily, especially on warm summer days. Avoid caffeinated and sugary drinks.

  • Stretch regularly: Stretching improves overall flexibility, warms up muscles before exercise, and relaxes tense muscles after a workout.

Credit: Henry Ford Health

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