Acupuncture for Tennis Elbow

By Christina Morris, L.Ac.

Tennis elbow or lateral epicondylitis is a condition where the lateral or outer part of the elbow becomes painful and tender. The term “tennis elbow” may sound a little misleading since this condition is not limited to tennis players. The most common cause of tennis elbow is due to the overuse of the muscles that attach to this area of the elbow known as the lateral epicondyle. The lateral epicondyle is the bony protrusion on the outside of the elbow. Anyone who performs repeated twisting, frequent rotation of the forearm, or repeated wrist extension can be at risk for this condition. Sometimes a direct blow to this bony protrusion can create inflammation, tenderness and pain. There are many treatment options for tennis elbow. This article will focus on acupuncture in the treatment for tennis elbow.

Acupuncture can be an effective form of treatment for tennis elbow. Studies show that acupuncture can decrease the pain of tennis elbow long term. When doctors at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida used acupuncture to treat 22 people with chronic tennis elbow, 77.3% received complete and lasting relief even after 8.5 months following the acupuncture treatments, and an additional 10% experienced a marked improvement. Another study from the British Journal of Rheumatology indicated that acupuncture was 79.2% effective in the treatment of tennis elbow.

Acupuncture treatments are based on the individual and their traditional Chinese medical diagnosis. Treatments are not the same for everyone. Point selection usually consists of local points around the area or areas of pain and distal points located on the hands and legs. In addition to acupuncture, there are several modalities that can be used during an acupuncture treatment for tennis elbow. Moxabustion, which is the burning of an herb called mugwort above the skin or on top of the needles, may be used. Electrical stimulation may also be used in the treatment of tennis elbow. Other therapies may include tui-na (Chinese massage) to the arm and the elbow region, herbal patches to the local pain areas, or the use of a therapeutic heat lamp. Herbal liniments are sometimes used locally and herbal formulas can also be taken internally but are prescribed and made specifically for the individual.

Besides acupuncture, there are various conventional treatment options for tennis elbow.

Physical therapy, rest, injections of corticosteroids, anti-inflammatory drugs, the use of a brace or a “tennis elbow strap”, heat or cold therapy, ultrasound, and the very last resort being surgery.

Do not let pain control your life. If you are thinking about acupuncture be advised that more and more insurance companies are accepting acupuncture in the treatment for many pain related issues.