Tennis elbow, which is also known as lateral epicondylitis or extensor tendinopathy is a condition that causes pain outside of the elbow. The primary cause for this condition is degeneration or inflammation of the tendon of the extensor muscles near the elbow due to strenuous overuse. Most tennis players do get this condition, but it is also common to people who repetitively stress the muscles around the elbows such as decorating, painting, weight lifting or typing. Tennis elbow develops gradually over a period of days or can develop suddenly, and the injury can be difficult to treat if it is chronic.
The main symptoms of tennis elbow are elbow pain when pressing outside of the elbow, and the pain tends to worsen when the wrist is straightened, twisted or lifted. One also feels weakness in the wrist when performing simple tasks such as opening the door. It is important to seek treatment so as to ensure quick recovery and also reduce the chances of reoccurrence. The common types of treatment include physiotherapy, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication, local steroid injections, bracing and surgery. However, acupuncture has been used for a while now, and most studies show that it is an effective way to treat tennis elbow by alleviating the symptoms. Most people will prefer this method of treatment because it is natural.
Acupuncture for tennis elbow is a way of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for treating pain, and it has been accepted in the modern western medicine. In TCM, the Qi flows along the meridians which are pathways in the body. The theory behind its work is that it helps unblock the body channels where energy flows from the cells. When the channels are blocked, then there is the restriction of energy flow, hence leading to serious symptoms such as pain. When acupuncture is done, these blocked areas are released, hence minimizing pain on the elbow.
Another way that acupuncture for tennis elbow works to relieve pain is by stimulating the nervous system and releasing neurochemicals hence promoting emotional and physical well being. When the pressure points are stimulated during acupuncture, the brain receives messages to reduce stress and pain which then reduces anxiety and allows one to relax.
Acupuncture for tennis elbow also relieves symptoms such as inflammation and pain through:
- Stimulation of the nerves in the muscle and other tissues, hence leading to the release of the endorphin hormone and neurohumoral factors and changes the pain process in the spinal cord and brain.
- Delivery of analgesia through the alpha-adrenoceptor mechanisms.
- Modulation of the limbic- paralimbic-neocortical network
- Increasing the release of adenosine, which contains antinociceptive properties.
- Promotion of the vascular and immunomodulatory factor release, hence reducing inflammation.
- Increasing local microcirculation, which aids in the dispersal of swelling, hence improves muscle stiffness and joint mobility.
Acupuncture for tennis elbow treatment is administered when the person is either in supine or sitting position, and the acupuncturist knows the exact points that the needles need to be placed. The acupuncturist uses 40mm sterile, disposable acupuncture needles which are rounded which makes it easier for the needle to enter the muscle tissue beneath the skin without causing any injury or damage. When the needles are placed in a particular region, then they stimulate the points that cause blockage and increase the blood flow to the area, hence allowing the healing process to start, reduces inflammation and strengthens the tendons.
The insertion points of acupuncture for tennis elbow are usually not near the elbow, and this is because if the intricate energy circulation blocks one part of the body, it will have effects of the energy blockage in another place. Some of these points include:
- Large intestine 10 also called LI 10 or Arms Three Miles, which is located 1 inch below the elbow fold on the forearm. Stimulation at this point helps relieve immobility and arm pain and eases inflammation of the elbow by stimulating energy flow along the large intestine channel.
- Large intestine 11 also called LI 11 or Pool at the Crook which is located in the large hollow that is found on the outer end of the elbow creases. When this area is blocked, it becomes tender hence acupuncture will heat and relax the arm sinews.
- Large intestine 12 also called LI 12 or Elbow Bone which is located above the elbow fold, and when it is stimulated, it relieves numbness, reduces pain that moves up towards the shoulder, relaxes the sinews and relieves inflammation and swelling.
- Large intestine 5 which is located on the radial side of the wrist and inside a depression between the brevis tendons and extensor pollicis longus. When stimulated it relieves wrist pain.
- Large intestine 6 also clad LUO Connecting Point, which is located just 3 inches higher than the large intestine and towards the elbow. When stimulated, it relieves pain in the wrist, arms, and elbows.
- Lung point 5 also known as Cubit Marsh which is located at the elbow crease outside the biceps brachii tendon. Stimulation at this point helps relieve pain in the upper arm and also regulates water level within the body hence balances the water involved in inflammation.
- Lung point 6 which is located 5 inches away from lung point 5 towards the wrist when the palm is facing up. When stimulate it relieves pain in the forearms, wrist, and elbow.
- Heart point 3 also known as Lesser Sea, which is located between the cubital crease end and the medial humerus epicondyle. When stimulated it relieves pain, tremors, numbness in the lower arms and hands.
- Triple warmer 6 which is located 3 inches above the TH4 and in the middle of the ulna and radius on the radial side at the tip of the olecranon Iine and the digitorium muscle extensor. Applying pressure helps relieve shoulder and arm pain, and shoulder and back heaviness.
- Triple warmer 10 also known as TH 10 or Celestial Well, which is located 1 inch above the olecranon process in a depression. When stimulated it reduces the elbow pain, swelling, and tendinitis.