Acupuncture & Lateral Epicondylitis (Tennis Elbow)

What is lateral epicondylitis?
Lateral epicondylitis, more commonly tennis elbow, and is a stubborn pain on the elbow, on the outside of the arm very close to the bone. The pain is often constant, can be throbbing, and may radiate down into the forearm. It is often more noticeable when extending the elbow. Persistent cases of lateral epicondylitis are often due to overuse, so those who are most prone to it are athletes or those who engage in repetitive arm motions. It is commonly found in tennis players, but can also occur in competitive bikers, swimmers, climbers, and others.

Tennis elbow can be difficult to treat. Ibuprofen or other NSAIDs are given as a first course of treatment, and cortisone injections are recommended as a second option. Beyond that, physical therapy to strengthen the joint and surgery can be given. Unfortunately none of those four options is associated with an excellent outcome, and while pain may disappear, recurrence or lingering discomfort are common.

Acupuncture For Lateral Epicondylitis
The two factors most involved in lateral epicondylitis are the nature of the movement causing the problem and how often a person engages in it. For example, a tennis player who doesn’t learn good form for their backhand swing is prone to injury, and the risk of that injury goes up the more often they play. If they do get tennis elbow, their ability to moderate their playing and improve their form is necessary for a good recovery above and beyond what they do for pain.

Acupuncture is good for pain relief, can reduce inflammation, and helps promote increased circulation to the elbow. For persistent epicondylitis where inflammation and poor circulation are stopping recovery, acupuncture can be curative and is best for those wishing to avoid interrupting their lives with surgery or dealing with side effects from other treatments. But for people who continue to injure themselves through overuse of the elbow, acupuncture is not any more effective than anything else.

The main benefit of going to see an acupuncturist for tennis elbow is the increased consultation time that you get compared with most medical providers. People who are consistently re-injuring their elbow but don’t know which muscles or tendons are involved can use an acupuncturist’s anatomical knowledge to narrow down the actions furthering their pain. Athletes learning better form from an instructor can also work with an acupuncturist who focuses on the specific problem areas and keeps them fit for playing in between games. This kind of detailed consultation is rare outside physical therapy, and is a lot less time intensive in an acupuncturist’s office.

For intense athletes or those with busy lives, choose your medical providers and treatments wisely. With tennis elbow, the question is not which therapy is most effective, but which one best fits the lifestyle you want.