How Tennis Elbow Pain Isn’t Always an Elbow Problem

How Tennis Elbow Pain Isn’t Always an Elbow Problem

For whatever reason, we’ve had an influx of tennis elbow pain cases, so I thought I would share our experiences, as most people think of back pain when hearing the word, “chiropractor.”

Okay, so, you have pain on the outside of your elbow, and you have no idea how it happened, so you decide to do a quick Google search. Quickly, you self-diagnose yourself with “tennis elbow.”

Image of anatomical arm with tennis elbow pain pathology

The site of symptoms associated with tennis elbow pain

But why do you have elbow pain and is it truly tennis elbow? More likely than not you don’t know — it came out of nowhere! And just because you have elbow symptoms matching the Googles description of tennis elbow doesn’t mean it’s tennis elbow pain!

To help you understand, do you mind if I share a quick story? Great, thanks!

Tennis Elbow Story

For the sake of following the privacy rules, we’ll call our lovely patient, “Venus,” like Venus Williams, the less noteworthy of the tennis phenom sisters, but by no means discounts her career. Comparing to Serena is like comparing any other baller to Jordan. Anyway, let’s get to the point!

tennis elbow pain Serena and Venus Williams

Venus and Serena Williams image to assist telling a story about tennis elbow pain

Venus came into our office skeptical we could help her, a common occurrence for us.

“I don’t know how you can help me but my friend ensured me I needed to see you guys. She said, “you’re different.”,” said, Venus.

Venus had been struggling with what was diagnosed as right-sided tennis elbow for about for over eight months. The pain wasn’t so much the problem, but the pain was limiting her ability to live her active lifestyle. She couldn’t swing at full bore, get through a full practice, nor finish her upper body workouts.

As you can imagine, when tennis is your livelihood, not being able to train adequately is significantly more of a problem than elbow discomfort!

Venus had an injection (pain relief for a few months but came back) and two bouts of physical therapy at two different practices at a rate of 2-3 visits per week for two months. She would have good days and bad days but, unfortunately, it was nothing to write home about when all said and done.

Is it Really Tennis Elbow?

When evaluated, Venus had positive tests for tennis elbow, however; two pieces of crucial information led us to a neck problem diagnosis. Yes, I said it correctly: a neck problem causing elbow pain!

1. She reported having previous history of neck pain and occasionally has neck stiffness with a limited head turn to one side.
2. At times, she would feel her elbow pain when sitting on the couch, when not moving it at all.

Why is this data relevant you ask? Those two nuggets make us highly skeptical it’s an elbow over a neck problem. Not to mention, she tended to carry her head in a slouched forward posture when seated.

“Tennis Elbow” Solution

To test our theory, we asked her to move her neck. When sticking her head out like a turtle head for 15 reps, it made her neck stiffer, and it was more painful to do a 13 lb. Kettlebell biceps curl.

As a result of testing, we asked her move her neck in the opposite direction of what made her worse — a chin tuck.

Though she was reluctant to give herself a double-chin (it’s temporary!), After two sets of 10 reps, her range of motion was 50% better, and her biceps curl felt stronger and less painful. Her homework was to do the chin tuck for ten repetitions every few hours.

Fast forward to visit four where we progressed her to a version of the movement in the video below where you use the backrest of a low-back chair as a fulcrum, i.e., hinge point:

By visit five she reported no pain but still felt a little weaker with her right arm. Though she passed all of her discharge criteria, demonstrating the problem is now stable (essential to make sure this doesn’t easily flare back up), she elected to dedicate a few visits to work in more rehab and ideal control and strengthening of her right arm in full-body exercises.

“Tennis Elbow” Solved

By the time Venus finished her treatment plan — yes, there’s an end — she verbally expressed understanding of her problem, why it occurred, how it could recur, and how to self-manage when it starts to creep back up on her.

Admittingly, Venus was a little taken back by how some stupid-simple movements of her neck performed in repetition could make a notable change in her darn elbow. We understand it can be a tough pill to swallow especially if you’ve been through the ringer as Venus had.

Venus endured eight months of revolving door symptoms and various treatments/procedures, all of which limited her ability to perform physically.

Utilizing an efficient and thorough assessment system, we were able to offer her a solution in as little as one month because we were looking where no one else had prior.

We’re not bragging; rather we’re communicating most problems are not always as complicated as they seem when you’re exploring beyond the site of pain! This is results driven, outcome-based care, not band-aid care.

Recall Venus’s friend said, “they’re different.” This is how we’re different.

Need a second opinion? Not sure if you’re ready to visit a trusted professional? Schedule a courtesy call with a REACH Doc — we’ll lead you in the right direction, toward a

Questions or comments appreciated!