One complaint that is becoming more common is the tennis elbow. More correctly, we should call it the “Non-Tennis Elbow”. Far more people sit at keyboards than swing racquets, and these are the ones we are seeing in epidemic proportions. To be sure, there are other tasks that can create a painful elbow, such as gardening, or tinkering with tools around the house. But by far the most common causes of tennis elbow lie far from the fields of activity, and reside right in front of our desks: the keyboard.
Let’s take a look at office ergonomics.
Even with good desk ergonomics, the forearm waits nervously to pounce on the mouse, or hit the keys in a spasm of typing. Away from the desk, the cell phone can command the full attention of powerful hand and arm muscles for endless texts, emails or games. Even on the drive home from work, the forearm muscles clench the steering wheel or stick shift with a white-knuckle ferocity. It all comes down to a massive muscular group pulling on a tiny, bony knob on the lateral side of the elbow.
What is a SPORT DISEASE? A TENNIS elbow is just a name for a painful outer knob at the elbow; the inner knob, when painful, is called a GOLF elbow. Neither require tennis or golf in their genesis. But then even a non-athlete can get “ATHLETE’S foot”.
For those who do play the actual game of tennis, the eponymous elbow injury can indeed be explained. Peter Burwash, one of the great experts in the teaching of tennis, writes brilliantly in his classic book: “Tennis For Life”. He points out five ways to GIVE yourself tennis elbow.
These include mal-positioning the thumb up the grip on backhands, straightening the arm on the forehand, serving with a straight arm and a stiff wrist, a whipping topspin, and lazy feet. The latter causes the player to get to the ball after it is already past, forcing the wrist to flick backhand shots at a horrible mechanical disadvantage. All fixable by a good tennis pro. An additional help could come from an equipment expert, who might to correct a racket fit with the wrong string tension, stiffness, or grip size.
In any event, how do we fix this pain in the arm? Most hand surgeons agree; they don’t have any really good answers. Once they cut through the skin, they can all see the inflamed tissues, but then what? They really don’t have much to offer. Perhaps cortisone shots, but not many, as they can lead to permanent thinning of the tissues. In our clinic, we have found good results with medical acupuncture, as well as with physiotherapy, massage, and chiropractic treatments, in selective cases.
In the end, it is easier to fix the cause of the problem than to fix the result. Take a look at your ergonomics, and take a look at your timing. Shake off your hand stiffness every fifteen minutes at the desk. In a tennis game loosen your death grip on the handle between shots. Remember, if we can invent a whole new way of working, we need to also invent whole new strategies to tame our new stresses. This also goes for our mental stresses!
For more reading on this subject:
For those who actually got their tennis elbow from tennis, read this:
For a good review of treatment options: