November 03, 2020

Heat or ice for tennis elbow Sta Active

Are Ice, Heat and Massage Good for Tennis Elbow?

A wide variety of treatment options exist for tennis elbow, including at-home methods and those administered by healthcare professionals. Each has various benefits, and individuals may respond differently to various treatments.

Tennis elbow pain is caused repetitive arm motion, which eventually causes tears, irritation and inflammation in the forearm tendons. Pain initially can be mild or intermittent, but gradually progresses to more severe and chronic. Without treatment, pain is unlikely to go away.

Tendons have reduced blood supply and poor circulation, so they heal very slowly. Recovery from this nagging injury is facilitated by increasing blood flow to the affected area, which brings additional oxygen and healing properties to the tendons to help repair and form new collagen fibers. Some of the most common at-home regimens are using ice, heat and massage. Let’s examine how each of these work in helping to heal the tendons.

Tennis elbow: Ice or Heat?

Inflammation results in pain, swelling, warmth and redness in injuries like tennis elbow, or lateral epicondylitis. One of the most common ways to reduce inflammation is through ice application. Ice numbs the pain and causes the blood vessels to constrict, which decreases swelling.

Typical recommendations are to apply an ice pack to the area after activity as needed, or for 15 to 20 minutes every four to six hours. Ice shouldn’t be applied directly to the skin, so use a bag or a towel between the two to protect the skin from freezing temperatures.

Note that medical professionals suggest that ice primarily be used at the first signs of tennis elbow pain and not over time. Because ice reduces circulation to the area, it actually slows healing, so it should only be applied as a short-term method to decrease pain.

On the other hand, heat stimulates circulation, and thereby brings more oxygen and nutrients to the tendons to encourage healing. It also relaxes the muscles and lowers tension. A heating pad should only be used 10 to 15 minutes once per day, however, and before activities that engage the affected arm.

Generally, heat therapy is used to promote healing after tennis elbow has persisted over time, and not immediately at the onset.

Tennis elbow: Massage?

Massaging the forearm and elbow, either performed on oneself or administered by a therapist, also is effective in helping address this injury. Like heat treatment, massage boosts circulation to the area to help heal the tendon and potentially reverse any degeneration.

Furthermore, massage also decreases muscle tension, can eliminate trigger points (or knots) and helps break down adhesions and scar tissue that commonly occur with tennis elbow.

For best results, a fairly deep massage, using friction techniques, is recommended, but intensity should be moderated if you experience increased pain. Professional massage therapists can deliver a variety of different techniques and incorporate various tools to determine which ones best address your pain.

Another convenient way to address tennis elbow at home via massage is through the new Stā Active E5 tennis elbow device, which applies a clinically proven physical therapy treatment known as instrument-assisted soft tissue mobilization (IASTM). The E5 automates this procedure to deliver concentrated, repetitive linear massage strokes to the forearm, which breaks down adhesions and scar tissue and increases blood flow for pain relief and functional restoration.

Facilitating a research backed-professional treatment at home, this simple, cost-effective regimen is only 10 minutes, 3 times per week for 8 weeks.

Ice, heat and massage all can play a role in treating tennis elbow, but additional therapies usually are necessary to facilitate recovery.


Rusty Wallman MPT, ATC

Owner of Orthopedic & Sports Rehab Physical Therapy Clinics. Specializes in elbow, shoulder, knee and hip injuries. Graduate of the Mayo School of Health and Sciences.



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