The Loop

Fitness Friday: Relieve elbow pain with these simple steps

By Ron Kaspriske Illustrations by David Plunkert
November 20, 2015

Tendons connect muscles to bones, and when you do things like put a death grip on a golf club and hit an entire pyramid of range balls, the muscles around your elbows often become bruised or torn. The acute pain you feel on the inside (golfer’s elbow) or outside (tennis elbow) of the joint “is a very common problem for golfers,” says Golf Digest fitness advisor Dr. Ara Suppiah. The following are his recommendations for treatment and rehabilitation.

Reduce the pain by icing the area for 20 minutes every so often during the first few days while taking doctor-approved, anti-inflammatory drugs like naproxen sodium (Aleve), Suppiah says. Wearing a compression sleeve or brace can increase blood flow and healing agents to the area. Some braces are even designed for sleeping. “Go easy on that arm for a few weeks,” Suppiah says. “Avoid lifting heavy objects, playing golf, etc. The pain is a reminder to take a break.”

If the pain doesn’t subside after a few weeks, consider a corticosteriods injection. It’s very effective for pain management and is usually covered by insurance. Still, you should have no more than three in a lifetime. “Too many can cause tissue damage,” Suppiah says.

Other treatments to consider are low-intensity ultrasound therapy (think of it as an internal massage of an inflamed joint) or platelet-rich plasma injections, Suppiah says. For PRP, blood is drawn and spun in a centrifuge until platelets (which contain healing agents) are concentrated. They are then injected back into the elbow. Neither is typically covered by insurance, Suppiah says, with ultrasound costing $50 to $100 a treatment and PRP up to $1,000. “PRP is more effective, but you usually need three shots and six weeks to recover,” he says.

Another radical procedure for tendinitis is Topaz. A needle emitting radio waves is injected into the tendon, creating small traumas that prompt healing agents into the area—like a jump-start for the natural recovery process. There has yet to be any scientific study confirming that Topaz works for elbow tendinitis, only anecdotally based endorsements from doctors, Suppiah says. Cost is $2,000 to $4,000 a treatment.

“The last resort is surgery, an arthroscopic tendon release,” Suppiah says. “But it might be necessary if you suffer from repeated issues with the tendons—tendinosis—and nothing else works.”

Physical therapist Tim Tyler, from Scarsdale, N.Y., developed exercises that have proved in clinical trials to be effective in the treatment and prevention of elbow tendinitis. He calls them the Tyler Twist (for tennis elbow) and Reverse Tyler Twist (for golfer’s elbow). You’ll need a TheraBand FlexBar ($13-$21) and should do 15 reps/three sets of either exercise daily. Follow along with the sequences below.


Illustrations by Brown Bird Design