When Tennis Elbow is (%$#**& Hilarious


I have had tennis elbow in my left arm since January. I am left handed.

Tennis elbow is a condition which totally hurts like you can’t believe. It’s a condition which directly affects any motion in the hand that requires grasping and lifting. As a parent of a toddler donned in overalls, envision grasping and then lifting the toddler from behind.

With tennis elbow, you can’t do that. The toddler runs off to the lion’s den at the zoo and you writhe in pain grasping your arm. Oh sure, everyone go after the kid!

I don’t play tennis. I mean, I can, I just don’t. (Sounds frighteningly a lot like an addict who says, “Ay ken quid anyzime I wantew, if I haz a prblm, I wouldquit. Ay juzdon haf a prblm annAy donwanta. Quid, thadis.”) I used to play tennis. Just like I used to go away for weekends with friends and I used to have a job and I used to travel to England. Having kids, whom I love, has changed all that.

Now because of the tennis elbow, even if I wanted to play tennis, I wouldn’t be able to. The kids are in school now, so I have the time (not to travel to England) but I could play tennis again.

I digress.

I got a cortisone shot for the elbow in March. I waited so long because I’m a glutton for punishment AND I wanted to see if it would go away on its own. Oh, and because I also hate (un)loading the dishwasher. After two months of shitty dishwasher experiences, I decided it was time to get the shot.

Shot didn’t work.

I met someone, in the health biz, last week (five months after the shot) while on vacation who told me that if the first shot doesn’t work then another one won’t. And if I continued getting the shots I’d just do irreparable damage to the tendons and ligaments and joint.

I don’t want to do that. I like my tendons et. al.

Since he was in the biz, I asked him what TO do.

“Yeah, since you’re so smart, tell me what to do. Should we shoot him now or wait until we get home?”

I digressed again – forgive me, I have a chip in my brain that activates a line from “Rabbit Seasoning” anytime I get remotely close to saying any lines from it.

He said to “use cross-fiber constriction for three minutes and then ice for five minutes every other day.”

I said, “So use a vertical and then a horizontal band at pressure for three minutes then ice?”

He said, “No. Just one band, opposing the line of the tendon [wrap] at high pressure for three minutes, then the ice for five. Do that every other day until it goes away.”

This was something similar to what I’d heard days before, on this got-tendonitis video, but there was no mention of the ice, nor did the man I spoke with mention the “distracting movements” (whatever the what that means) nor were there the sounds of weights slamming on the floor behind me. I tried the approach twice as shown in the video. It did nothing for me and the “distracting movements” bruised my arm a bit, making it look weird.

When I got home from my eight-hour drive from that vacation, my elbow was pretty sore. I asked my husband to wrap my arm in some very wide elastic bands, the “TheraBands” I have from physical therapy that I got last summer after hurting my back while rowing. (Back’s better, thanks for asking.)

The process of wrapping me was hilarious. Maybe, now as I type this, it’s one of those “you had to be there” moments, but it was funny because we couldn’t get the elastic to stay put. When it finally did stay put, then we had to pull away from each other to increase the tension. Then he had to leave enough slack but keep it tight enough to wrap the wrap into itself so it wouldn’t slip.

Three minutes of that at this pressure:

The first two minutes are uncomfortable. The last minute is pretty unbearable. Then, ice for five minutes. Thing 3 gets photo credit.

Does the blood rush out of your limb? Yes.

Does the constriction hurt? Yes.

How much does it hurt? A lot.

Does the constriction hurt more than the ice? No.

Five minutes of an ice wrap around possibly the least-fatty part of the body, the elbow joint, is INSANE. Five minutes is like childbirth. Five minutes hurts.

So then what? 600mg ibuprofen (advil, motrin – same thing) once and then wait 48 hours. The ibuprofen is my idea, it’s an anti-imflammatory, I figure it can’t hurt because that’s what my orthopedist said to take three times a day when I first got the condition.

Is it working? I have to say… yes. Slowly and surely, it is.

My pain was a 6 or 7 after the shot when it was a 22 before the shot. I have a high threshold for pain however, and so I often push through things that are physically difficult.  Now the pain is a 3 or 4, depending on the movement.

Why am I doing this? I tend to be a whole-person athlete/exerciser. If I experience pain in one part of my body, I tend to shut down and not do anything. That doesn’t work for me because I’ve got more energy at times than a nuclear bomb and so I have to do something. The yoga I most enjoy is vinyasa which is flow yoga or yin yoga which is slower where you hold the poses and cry for mommy. The aerobic work I most enjoy is strenuous rowing or interval hard running / sprinting followed by jog or walking then repeated about six more times. I enjoy shoveling snow in the winter because I build squats into it. I’m not normal. I add push-ups into my yoga vinyasa or sun salutes because it’s too wimpy for me otherwise. I actually like burpees. I like to do mountain climbers. They are hard to do and they kick my ass, but they are awesome. I like to work.

I have a punching bag in the basement (and pink 14oz Everlast gloves – they’re so cute!) but I don’t use it because of the tennis elbow thing. The push-ups in yoga are hard because of the tennis elbow thing. The rowing is hard because of the feathering which aggravates the tennis elbow thing. The running is pushed to the wayside because I have to hold my arms at 90˚ angles and that aggravates the tennis elbow thing. So then I don’t do anything. But I do actually… I just do it with pain. But I’m tired of the pain and waiting doesn’t do anything but bore me.

So I need to do something and the cortisone shots don’t work and I want to start sculling or sweep rowing again, but the elbow hurts, so I’m going all out – going compression then freeze and it seems to be working. I’m feeling better today and that’s the proof I’m looking for.

Thing 1, who’s 14, had to put the band on me yesterday and he was terrified he was hurting me. I assured him he was, but that it wasn’t his fault and that if he didn’t help hurt me then I’d have to wait until his dad got home and I didn’t want to do that. So he did it and we laughed about it. Then the timer went off and we unraveled it and then the ice. I had to leave the house to get the mail to distract myself.

We laughed. He laughed and I winced.

That’s about the only time tennis elbow is hilarious.

Thank you.

8 responses »

  1. Oh geez! If we put my right elbow with your left elbow we’d have a non-functioning person. My elbow is killing me. I can’t figure out if it’s from swimming, cycling, or strength because it never hurts while I’m doing my training. Hurts like hell when I grab for my diet coke and try to bring it to my mouth, or to flip clothes from the washer to the dryer, or to brush my hair (so I don’t. Ha). So I need to compress it to near death and then ice it to just before frostbite?

    • Hi August! Yes, yowch sums it up, but it’s getting better. At issue now is the weakness in the surrounding muscles, due the overcompensation when I was more acutely injured. Patience…

      My hands are torn up from sculling tonight, but I had very little pain when “feathering” (turning the blade to be parallel to the water before turning perpendicular just before entry / taking the stroke) so that’s pretty big progress. Now I just need to take it as it comes and try jot to pampered the ARM too much while being mindful of the injury.

      Yes, laughing is probably the best way to deal with these matters! It’s the most fun at least…. 🙂

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