Treating Elbow Pain with Acupuncture

I (Lynn) have been going to a boot camp class for the past six months. Twice a week, I get up at 5:45 am. to be at class at 6:15, so I can have my butt kicked for an hour. It’s a great workout, and over time, it’s getting a little easier.

Yesterday morning, when my alarm went off at 5:45, I turned it off and went back to bed. Five minutes later, the guilt of not getting up pulled me out of the sack. I brushed my teeth, got dressed in my workout clothes, and…went back to bed.

Treating tennis elbow with acupunctureIt’s not that I didn’t want to get up. It’s that my elbow was hurting. Just the thought of planks, burpees, and bicep curls made it hurt more. As an acupuncturist, I know exactly what’s going on; I have Tennis Elbow–without ever hitting a single tennis ball.

The technical term for Tennis Elbow is lateral epicondylitis, which simply means the tendons on the outside of my elbow are inflamed. Tendons attach muscle to bone, and the muscles involved in Tennis Elbow are those at the top of my forearm. Tendonitis is usually the result of overuse or repetitive movements that put extra pressure on the tendon. The constant stress on the tendon causes small tears, which my body will repair…if I just give it a rest. While the thought of a little more sleep yesterday was appealing, it was knowing that boot camp would slow the healing process that sent me back to bed. Honest.

Typically, the pain you feel with Tennis Elbow is on the outside of your elbow, and it becomes worse when you’re grasping or twisting objects, like a tennis racquet, hammer, or opening jars. The pain often is worse in the evening and can even make it difficult for your to sleep. Over time, the pain may radiate up or down your arm, especially as you try to compensate for the pain by using other parts of your body. Interestingly, there is rarely swelling associated with Tennis Elbow.

Golfers can also develop Tennis Elbow, but it presents itself in a slightly different way (besides being caused by golf, not tennis). Tendonitis associated with tennis most frequently affects the outside of your elbow with the pain radiating down the outside of your forearm and into your wrist. Golfer’s Elbow usually affects the inside of your elbow (closer to your body) with the pain radiating down the underside of your forearm and into your wrist.

Whether from tennis, golf, boot camp, or anything else, tendonitis is a fairly common condition. Its prevalence increases with age as our tendons become less flexible. The incidence of tendonitis is higher in athletes for obvious reasons, and Golfer’s elbow is more common in men.

Our bodies are programmed to heal themselves, but sometimes that doesn’t happen, or we just don’t give it a chance before going out and aggravating the injury. When that happens, acupuncture can be very effective, either as an adjunct to standard Western treatments or on its own. One of the theories of how acupuncture works is that the tiny needles, when inserted, create a microtrauma, or tiny injury, that signals your body to get busy and heal itself. Researchers have also documented that acupuncture blocks the production of adenisone, which is a chemical that transmits pain signals to your brain. According to Chinese medical theory, however, acupuncture works because it increases the flow of energy and blood to the injured area, helping your body to heal.

Other tools that an acupuncturist may use to heal tendonitis include heat therapy to increase circulation; electric stimulation or microcurrent (devices that stimulate healing through electric impulse); massage; and in some cases Chinese herbs.

So, as an acupuncturist, what will I do for my…uh, boot camp elbow? A little acupuncture, some heat, some microcurrent , and rest. Also, I’ll lay off the burpees and push-ups for a couple of days, and should be as good as new asap.



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