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Can Massage Therapy Treat Tennis Elbow?

By Sally Birdling
from Your Massage Double Bay

Tennis elbow is a very common and often debilitating condition. It can affect anybody of any age, gender or walk of life. It is difficult to treat and usually the patient has been suffering over several months, or years, and has tried many other treatments prior to seeking out massage, therefore many cases are in a chronic state.

What Is Tennis Elbow?

Tennis elbow, also known as Lateral Epicondylitis, is a painful condition affecting the tendons at the lateral epicondyle (outside) area of the elbow. Inflammation and sometimes micro-tearing of the tendons that attach to the lateral area of your elbow can become tender and swollen. It can be painful to grip, carry anything or in some cases use your hand at all.

So How Did I Get It?

Although Tennis Elbow can be caused by playing tennis it can also be caused by other sports like weight lifting, rowing, cricket and rock climbing. Occupations requiring many hours of computer use or require vigorous, repetitive extension of the forearms and gripping of the fingers such as butchers, builders, plumbers, painters, bricklayers, physiotherapists, osteopaths and massage therapists. Even parents of small children can develop Tennis Elbow from lifting them several times a day.

How Do I Know If I Have It?

The main symptom of Tennis Elbow is pain on the lateral side of your elbow especially when palpating the area. It often starts as a mild occasional aching pain particularly when using your hands repetitively. The extensor forearm muscles often feel painful and tight and they become easily fatigued after a limited time of use. Aching and stiffness is common in the morning and pain can often start when flexing or extending your hand back and forth or when straightening your elbow. Over time the pain can slowly develop into a stronger more extreme pain that will be present most of the time. Gripping onto anything like a coffee cup, carrying shopping bags or even gripping the sheets when turning over in bed is often enough to diagnose the condition as advanced.

How can I get this treated?

There are many treatment choices for tennis elbow such as massage therapy, acupuncture, physiotherapy, dry needling, steroid injections, natural and pharmaceutical anti-inflammatory medications and finally, surgery. But in this case, we will discuss massage therapy.

So How Will Massage Therapy Help Me?

The most effective type of massage is a deep massage focusing on the forearm muscles and transverse friction (cross friction) massage around the tendons of the elbow area. This is effective because deep tissue massage stimulates blood flow bringing oxygen and nutrients to the restricted muscles. This increases flexibility and breaks up scar tissue which lengthens the muscles and releases tension on the tendons at the elbow. The purpose of transverse friction massage is to break down tendon adhesions and to stimulate collagen production.

Generally, the best treatment regime is weekly or bi-weekly massage. The main focus of the massage is on the musculature of the forearm both lateral and medial and also, as discussed above, transverse friction on the tendons around the elbow. But focusing solely on the forearm and elbow, although important, usually results in limited success. Massaging other areas of the body and releasing tight, restricted muscles of the upper back, neck, shoulders, chest and arms releases dysfunctional postural movement patterns that may be contributing to the onset of the condition and delaying recovery.

How Long Will It Take to Recover?

Recovery from chronic Tennis Elbow is a slow and frustrating one. It often takes many massage sessions in conjunction with rehabilitation work like heat and ice therapy and stretching and strengthening, which can usually be done at home. Recovery time can be anywhere from 6 months to 2 years so patience is essential to avoid reinjury. It is tempting to return to your normal activities as soon as your feel better but the damaged tissue is still vulnerable and can easily tear again before the healing process is fully complete. Even when you think it’s finally resolved and there has been no pain for several months it can easily reappear particularly if strain is put on the hands again. Therefore, if you feel it may be returning it is important to seek treatment as soon as possible as a second flareup can be even more challenging to recover from than the first.

More about the author

Sally Birdling
Sally Birdling
– Your Massage Double Bay

Hi, I'm Sally Birdling, owner and operator of Your Massage Double Bay in Sydney's Eastern Suburbs. I am a bodywork therapist and have been massaging in my Double Bay practice since 1995. I specialise in remedial massage with an emphasis on deep tissue massage, pain relief and injury recovery. However, with over 27 years experience my treatments are tailored to suit individual needs and requirements.

To find more information about my clinic please visit me at or on Facebook at