Crush enough backhands and you’ll start to feel it—that nagging pain outside the elbow that flares up every time you swing your racquet. This is what we call tennis elbow.
Tennis elbow, or lateral epicondylitis, is a degenerative condition of the forearm’s muscles and tendons caused by repetitive motion. It works like this: The repetitive motion—like hitting that backhand a thousand times—causes your forearm muscles to tighten, weaken, and shorten. These shortened forearm muscles then start to pull on the extensor carpi radialis brevis (ECRB) tendon, a wrist extensor, and its collagen fibres startto tear. Picture the ECRB tendon as a rope being pulled in two directions, its strands fraying and snapping under the pressure. Tear enough of these collagen fibres and you’ll reach a tipping point—a small defect, or tear, in the ECRB itself.
The body, in an effort to fix the tear, fills the area with inflammatory granulation tissue, a substance used to heal wounds. But it’s too late—the ECRB is too far from the bone, the gap can’t be bridged, and the granulation tissue creates that tenderness and pain you feel when you move your arm.
The problem at the heart of tennis elbow is the overloading of the ECRB tendon. So what’s the fix? You have to relieve the pressure on the ECRB tendon by sharing the load, and you do this by strengthening the surrounding muscles. The stronger the surrounding muscles, the lighter the load on the ECRB tendon.
Fortunately, it’s a lot easier than it sounds. In fact, the only thing you’ll need is a simple elastic band.