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tennis elbow sports massage

How to Use Sports Massage for Tennis Elbow

Tennis elbow, clinically known as lateral epicondylitis, is a very common injury that most professional athletes and active people have, as it affects those who repeatedly place stress on their wrist extensors and flexors.

This condition is not limited to just tennis players even though the name was generally linked to high impact movements like using a racquet to hit a tennis ball in tennis, which usually pulls on tendons and muscles to cause inflammation and injury.

Besides, people who don’t even play any kind of sports or have sedentary lifestyles can also suffer from this condition as activities like painting, typing, gardening, or decorating are common causes of tennis elbow.

Nowadays, this condition is becoming more common as more people are spending their time in front of their computers typing on their keyboards or clicking on the mouse repeatedly. However, there are many causes of tennis elbow, which will be discussed in this article. We will also take a look at some of the symptoms and causes of tennis elbow and how sports massage can be used to treat it.

What is Tennis Elbow?

Tennis elbow, or lateral elbow tendinopathy, is a condition that comes with pain around the outside of the elbow, and this pain usually spreads to the wrists and forearms sometimes. This condition may occur because of continuous strain to the forearm muscles and tendon or due to an injury to the tendon near the elbow joint. Plus, the pain that comes with this condition is mostly felt when lifting or bending the arm, and it makes it difficult for people to grip, twist, or extend their forearm.

There are two types of tennis elbow; muscular tennis elbow and tendonitis tennis elbow. Muscular tennis elbow is the most common type and it occurs because of muscle tightness of the forearm that is in charge of extending the wrist and raising the fingers. On the other hand, tendonitis tennis elbow occurs after high impact movements like playing tennis, and the pain is usually located at the elbow and wrist. Besides, muscle fatigue and repetitive movements can also be a major cause of tennis elbow.

Symptoms that Show That You Have Tennis Elbow

The most obvious symptom that shows you have a tennis elbow is a deep ache emanating from the outside of your elbow to your forearms and wrists. Average sufferers usually feel the pain when lifting their arm or gripping small objects, as this condition also comes with weakness in the forearm. Sports-related tennis elbow symptoms commonly show themselves as a tendon issue or sudden pangs of acute pain because of the high impact movements associated with most sports. Outlined below are a few other symptoms of tennis elbow.

  • Pain in the lateral elbow
  • Pain associated with bending your wrist or aligning your elbow
  • Wrist extension limitations
  • Sore forearm muscles
  • Mild to medium swelling
  • Aching and stiffness of the elbow

What Causes Tennis Elbow

Tennis elbow usually develops gradually over time but it can flare up suddenly when you increase the intensity of any activity you are doing. If you are involved in activities that require you to twist your wrists and forearm muscles repeatedly, you are at risk of getting this condition. Some of these activities include knitting, carpentry, plumbing, painting, fencing, typing, weightlifting, racket sports and discus throw.  Besides, you can also get tennis elbow if you have a poor technique when playing racket sports like tennis or badminton.

Highlighted below are some of the risk factors associated with having a tennis elbow.

  • Sporting Activity – The type of sports you play can increase the risk of you getting this condition. As mentioned earlier, tennis elbow commonly happens to people that play racket sports like badminton, especially those with poor form and technique.
  • Age – Even though tennis elbow can happen to people of all ages, it is more common in adults of ages 30 to 50 years.
  • Occupation – Your occupation plays a big role in whether or not you are at risk of getting tennis elbow. If your work involves repetitive use of your arms and wrists like a butcher, painter, carpenter, or plumber, you are at a bigger risk of getting it.

How to Evaluate Tennis Elbow

There are different methods you can use to evaluate tennis elbow injuries and these include manual resistive tests, observation, and range of motion. Let’s take a look at a few of these evaluation methods.

  • Manual Resistive Tests

This test usually involves placing your wrist and forearm in a neutral position. The evaluator will then hold your lateral elbow with one hand while your other hand provides resistance as you try to extend your wrist. The contractions will begin slowly and build to solid participation of the target muscles. This test focuses on the Extensor carpi radialis brevis when the elbow is flexed and the Extensor carpi radialis longus when the elbow is extended. Besides, if you feel any pain or resistance during this test, you may have a tennis elbow.

  • Observation

If you observe any swelling on the elbow or forearm, alongside pain, you may have tennis elbow. This is because the swelling is usually present on the outside of the elbow in most severe cases.

  • Range of Motion Assessment

You can evaluate the severity of your tennis elbow injury by using a range of active motion at the wrist. If these motions cause intense pain, the injury may be very severe. Passive motion, on the other hand, does not involve pain and you can do this by extending your elbow and stretching the tissues on the outside of your forearm.

Sports Massage Techniques for Tennis Elbow

Deep sports massage is the best treatment for tennis elbow as it involves manipulating the soft tissues that contribute to this condition, resulting in pain relief.

However, when treating tennis elbow, it is crucial to avoid sports massage techniques that irritate the radial nerve.

Highlighted below are a few of the sports massage techniques used by licensed sports massage therapists to treat tennis elbow.

Compressive Effleurage

This technique is typically applied with a circular stroking motion at the beginning of the treatment to encourage blood circulation and relaxation. Massage therapists apply this technique with light pressure to help increase the soft tissues’ temperature and stimulate the lymphatic system. There are numerous benefits of this sports massage technique as it promotes increased lymphatic drainage and venous return, as well as enhances the creation of dopamine, endorphins, and serotonin in the body.


The petrissage massage technique involves kneading, squeezing, and stretching the soft tissues in the body. Sports massage therapists use this technique to relieve tension in the muscle fibres responsible for the tennis elbow condition. Petrissage is also used to stimulate the lymphatic and vascular system, allowing the removal of toxins and waste products from the body. Besides, massage therapists use this technique with pressure to break down adhesions that compress nerves and restrict movement in the wrist and forearm.

Cross Friction Fibre Massage

Friction massage therapy is crucial as it helps in breaking up the tensions within the tendons, alleviating the pain. This technique is widely used to treat tennis elbow and it involves using the thumb and fingers to manipulate the localized soft tissues in the arm in a bid to move tissue fluids and induce connective tissue repair. Message therapists will use a gentle back and forth motion to scrub the fibres of the inflamed tendons, and they will keep increasing the pressure to the area until the tenderness disappears.


Massage therapists usually assist the stretching of the wrist extensors to warm up the wrists and reduce the muscle tone. This technique is used to enhance circulation in the area, improve flexibility, and reduce pain. Besides, most sports massage therapists finish their sessions by stretching the extensor muscles.

Trigger Point Therapy

Tennis elbow injuries usually have trigger points that when identified and treated by sports massage therapists will cure the majority of cases. Most massage therapists will look for the knob at the edge of the elbow as this is the point where all the muscles on the back of the arm meet. Further down this area is the very essential trigger point where the tendon turns into muscle and this point is responsible for most of the issues associated with tennis elbow.

Once this trigger point is located, the sports massage therapist will use trigger point release therapy to break the muscle tension down and release the toxins and waste materials trapped inside. Trigger point therapy massage involves using both thumbs to press into knots and trigger points on the body, and it involves applying deep pressure. Sports massage therapists use this massage technique to break down scar tissue and adhesions, and it is administered until the client feels relief and the trigger point completely subsides. Plus, you can use this method to reduce the tennis elbow symptoms, but if the condition doesn’t reduce with continuous administration of this technique, the symptoms might be a result of another issue entirely.

Deep tissue massage

Most massage therapists use the deep tissue massage technique to treat tennis elbows as it helps in improving blood circulation, breaking up scar tissue, relieving muscle contractions, enhancing flexibility, and easing pain. Therapists mostly focus on the center of the muscle connected to the tendon affected in a bid to relieve the pain. Also, deep tissue strokes will help improve muscle elasticity and decrease tendon attachment tensile stress. Sports massage therapists combine many of these techniques to ensure their clients get the relief and treatment they came for.

Deep Transverse Friction

Sports massage therapists use deep transverse friction to massage the affected area diagonal to the direction of the tendon fibre attachment. These massages usually last about one to three minute, depending on the massage round, and can be a bit painful to the client depending on the severity of the tennis elbow injury. Plus, this massage technique is administered consistently until the level of discomfort felt decreases significantly.

How Does Sports Massage Therapy Help treat Tennis Elbow?

Sports massage therapists usually use isolytic contractions to help the muscles to return to full activation and decrease protective inhibition. They also offer ice to help control the pain. Sports massage therapy should be administered regularly if possible, as the more sessions you go for, the better your chances of eliminating the pain completely. However, the duration of your treatments depends majorly on the severity of your tennis elbow injury.

It is also important you do not get a sports massage until at least 48 hours after getting the tennis elbow injury as it might worsen the condition. There are different other ways sports massage therapy helps tennis elbow, and they are outlined below.

  • Pain Reduction

The different sports massage techniques are all centred on one thing – making the pain go away. Tennis elbow usually comes with a lot of pain and movement limitations, and sports massages help to reduce these symptoms.

  • Rehabilitation Enhancement

Sports massages ensure that you have complete control of your wrists and forearms, enabling you to perform any activity you want with ease.

  • Improve Forearm Muscle Balance

With sports massages, the muscle balance in your forearm will improve exponentially as massage therapists make use of a combination of massage techniques.

  • Increases Fluid Circulation

Sports massages ensure the removal of metabolic waste and toxins from the body, enhancing the circulation of blood, nutrients and oxygen in the body.

  • Induce Connective Tissue Repair

Sports massages help to repair any tears in the connective tissues as it involves manipulating the soft tissues in the wrist, forearm, and elbow. This form of massages aids in the breakdown of scar tissues and adhesions, ensuring that the connective tissues are repaired.

  • Aid in Muscle Relaxation

Most sports massage techniques are relaxing, as they help develop physical muscle relaxation, as well as improve the range of movement in the wrist, elbow, forearm, and all the connective tissues