How to Relieve Tennis Elbow Pain with Foam Rolling

 using the Rolflex to foam roll a tennis elbow condition

Written by Nic Bartolotta

Nic Bartolotta is a physical therapist and holistic health practitioner. He holds a Master of Physical Therapy (MPT) degree from Cal State University - Long Beach and has worked with hundreds of professional athletes from the MLB, NFL, NBA, and NHL. Nic is known for his expertise in injury prevention, rehabilitation, and sports performance enhancement. He specializes in myofascial release techniques to address soft tissue restrictions. He is also the Chief Clinical Officer of Rolflex.

 

Tennis elbow can keep you off the court for weeks, causing severe pain even when you try to rest. If you're experiencing outer elbow pain and your current treatment plan isn't working, this foam rolling method is for you. 

We will explain exactly what tennis elbow is, what's causing it (besides tennis), and your symptoms. Then, our resident physical therapist, Nic Bartolotta, will walk you through reducing your pain and treating your tennis elbow with the Rolflex foam roller in just 1-2 weeks. 

What is tennis elbow?

Tennis elbow (lateral epicondylitis) is a painful condition of the outer elbow caused by repetitive strain on the forearm muscles.

The elbow joint consists of three bones: one from the upper arm (humerus) and two from the lower arm (ulna and radius). The tendons that control your wrist and fingers run through your elbow, connecting via the epicondyles, bumps on the bones' ends. 

There are two types of epicondyles: medial and lateral. The lateral epicondyle is located on the outer part of the elbow. Tennis elbow occurs when the tendons that attach to the outer elbow become inflamed from overuse. It's most common in racquet sports athletes. Still, it can be caused by any activity involving excessive squeezing, twisting, and turning of the forearm, wrist, and hand. 

For reference, an injury to the medial epicondyle is called a golfer's elbow, which causes similar pain on the inner elbow.

What causes tennis elbow?

Tennis and other racquet sports are the most common causes of tennis elbow because athletes constantly engage their forearm, wrist, and hand to make challenging shots. Specifically, the backhand swing causes it.

However, racquet sports like tennis, badminton, and squash aren't the only culprits. Tennis elbow can be caused by any activities that involve repetitive hand & wrist movements, bending the elbow, and forearm engagement like: 

  • Throwing sports such as baseball, softball, javelin, and discus
  • Excessive use of hand tools such as gardening shears, scissors, screwdrivers, and even power drills
  • Activities that involve repeatedly bending the elbow, like playing the violin or using a hammer
  • Professions such as decorating, plumbing, masonry, and electricians where constant wrist & forearm movements are required
  • Activities involving precise hand & finger movements, such as typing and sewing

Symptoms of tennis elbow

Suppose you're dealing with outer elbow pain caused by playing tennis or another racquet sport or constantly squeezing hand tools. In that case, you're likely displaying symptoms of tennis elbow. 

The condition typically presents with the following symptoms:

  • Pain on the outside of your elbow
  • Pain that extends from the outer elbow to the forearm, especially when lifting an object or bending your arm
  • Difficulty gripping small objects, such as pens and utensils
  • Sharp pain when twisting your forearm to turn a door handle or open a jar
  • Pain when holding your forearm in a neutral position, such as when shaking hands or having a drink

How To Treat Tennis Elbow with the Rolflex Foam Roller

Foam roll the forearm.

Place your arm in the Rolflex and position the foam roller on your outer forearm, just below the problem area. Move the roller up & down between your wrist and elbow to massage the muscles outside your forearm. This will "warm up" the muscles and break down the damaged scar tissue. 

Don't foam roll too close to the elbow (the problem area), as this will aggravate the injured tendons, cause further pain, and prolong your recovery time. 

Continue this deep tissue massage for 1-2 minutes, searching for particularly tender areas. Most of these will be within inches of your elbow. 

ART: below the elbow

Now that you've primed the forearm muscles, let's break down and eliminate the inflamed scar tissue. 

Place the foam roller over one of the tender areas near your elbow—trigger points. Squeeze the handles to apply pressure, then rotate your forearm and wrist to actively release the tension in the area. Perform at least ten (10) complete rotations in clockwise and counterclockwise directions.

Note: Active release therapy (ART) is a form of self-myofascial release that breaks down and restores mobility in damaged muscle tissue. You should feel the tension released as the hard myofascial tissue is stripped away from the tendons. 

ART: above the elbow

Place the Rolflex above the elbow joint without applying pressure as you pass over it. Position the foam roller so it sits on your tricep's lateral head. 

Just as you did with your wrist, bend and straighten your arm to flex the tricep muscle. As you do this, the foam roller will break up the deep, damaged tissue, causing your elbow pain. 

Bend and straighten your arm for 5-10 repetitions. Afterward, rotate your arm clockwise and counterclockwise for 5-10 repetitions, stripping down the tissue and releasing the tension from the area. 

This entire process should take between 3-5 minutes to complete. Repeat this routine 2-3x times daily for at least 1-2 weeks for best results. You'll see improvements in pain, tension, strength, and mobility in the first few weeks. However, treatment should be continued even as the pain subsides. To accelerate your recovery, supplement the foam roller treatment with rest, ice, mobility, and strength exercises. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the fastest way to cure tennis elbow?

The fastest way to cure tennis elbow is to prioritize rest while the inflammation & pain subside. Once the pain is manageable, a combination of foam rolling, ice, and mobility exercises will help you quickly recover. 

Should you foam roll tendonitis?

It would be best to foam roll the body parts above and below the injured joint. But it would be best if you never foamed roll the inflamed tendons or joints directly, as this will cause extreme pain and prolong your recovery time. 

What movements should I avoid with tennis elbow?

Avoid any movements that place undue strain on your elbow and wrist. This includes the movements that caused the injury and any other athletic movements such as pull-ups, pushups, bench presses, and dumbbell curls. Avoid excessive writing, cooking, using hand tools, and sewing.