Not long ago, a patient asked me, “How do you treat tennis elbow without treating tennis elbow?”
At first, I wasn’t sure if she was telling me a joke, or if she actually wanted to know… but before I could answer, she added, “Because since I’ve been coming here, I no longer have tennis elbow… and you’ve never even touched my elbow.”
To answer this question we must first identify the problem…
Tennis elbow, also known as lateral epicondylitis, occurs when there’s inflammation at the outside of the upper arm near the elbow that causes pain or soreness. It can result from repeated motions of the wrist or forearm (think of the motions involved with using a screwdriver). While commonly experienced by tennis players, anyone can develop it.
A similar condition known as Golfer’s Elbow can also occur on the inside of the elbow (medial epicondylitis). Golfer’s can experience tennis elbow, and tennis players can experience golfer’s elbow… Trippy.
Inflammation of the area is responsible for these distinct pain patterns. But where does inflammation come from? Inflammation is an immunological response to injury… and guess what controls this immune response? The nervous system.
As soon as I made that connection, it “clicked” for the patient and she understood. That’s because she knew firsthand that it was my job as an Upper Cervical Chiropractor to evaluate and improve the function of her nervous system. Sometimes people forget that nerves travel everywhere in your body, even to the elbow!
Interestingly enough, another patient came in that very same day and said, “I might need an adjustment today because my tennis elbow is acting up, and I know that whenever that starts bothering me, I should probably come here and get checked.”
Still many people are oblivious to the relationship between their health and nervous system. It’s tempting to think about our aches and pains in a compartmentalized manner. So it seems appropriate to visit a physical therapist, an orthopedist, or even a massage therapist before considering a trip to the chiropractor.
Whether you have chronic tennis elbow, golfer’s elbow, or some other type of elbow, don’t let the name of a condition fool you. While many cases of elbow pain can benefit from localized pain-relieving therapies, other cases can also achieve lasting relief as a result of improved nervous system function. It’s less about treatment, and more about balance.