Probably the most common repetitive strain syndrome, tennis elbow affects between 1-3% of the U.S. Despite its name, athletes aren’t the only ones at risk for tennis elbow. In fact, tennis elbow is most often a work-related injury and can affect anyone performing repetitive tasks that involve extension or rotation of the wrists and elbows.
What is Tennis Elbow?
Lateral epicondylitis, most often referred to as tennis elbow, is a repetitive strain injury (RSI) caused by the continual irritation and overuse of the muscles and tendons in the forearm and elbow. The elbow joint is comprised of three bones: one in the upper arm (the humerus) and two located in the forearm (the radius and ulna). Tendons attach muscle to these bones at connective bumps called epicondyles. The tendon that is usually to blame for tennis elbow is referred to as the Extensor Carpi Radialis Brevis (ECRB). Chronic overuse stresses these muscles and tendons and causes tiny lesions in the tissue that result in pain, inflammation, and soreness.
Because tennis elbow tends to develop gradually over time, pain can begin out as mild and slowly worsen over the course of weeks or months. Symptoms of tennis elbow can increase with forearm usage. The pain of tennis elbow may radiate outwards from the outside of the elbow, sometimes traveling down into the forearm and wrists.
The most notable signs of tennis elbow are:
- Tenderness on the outside of the elbow across the bony region known as the lateral epicondyle
- Burning pain on the outer part of the elbow that radiates towards the forearms and wrist and tends to worsen with forearm activity
- A shaky, weak grip with an inability to lift things or make turning motions without pain
- Overuse over time is the leading cause tennis elbow. When weakened from overuse, microscopic tears begin to form in the tendon, leading to pain and inflammation.
- Trauma, such as a direct blow or a sudden forceful extension or pull, account for half of all tennis elbow injuries.
- Age is a factor that can contribute to the likelihood of developing tennis elbow. While tennis elbow can affect people of any age, it most commonly occurs in adults between 30 and 50 years old.
How to Use Essential Oils to Treat Tennis Elbow
Essential oils are a highly concentrated version of the natural aroma compounds found in plants. Most essential oils possess tremendous therapeutic properties and can be used in different ways to provide a multitude of benefits. Essential oils can also be mixed with one another to enhance their effects.
- Topical Usage — Always exercise caution when applying essential oils topically. Some essential oils are known to cause skin irritation, so when applying essential oils topically, take care to dilute the oils with a carrier oil such as coconut oil or extra virgin olive oil.
- As an Aromatherapy Agent — To unleash the aromatic qualities of essential oils, use a diffuser or a humidifier. You can also add a few drops to a soaking tub or hot bath.
- Oral Consumption — The majority of essential oils can be taken internally — used as an additive in teas or other edibles. Before ingesting essential oils, be sure that you obtain food grade oils for internal use.
Best Essential Oils for Treating Tennis Elbow
Early trials have shown that black currant oil has a direct effect on the body’s response to inflammation. Oral ingestion of blackcurrant oil can reduce pain, inflammation, and stiffness and helps to repair muscle and joint damage. These effects are possibly due to its high levels of gamma-linoleic acid (GLA), a type of omega-6 fatty acid which plays an important role in modulating the body’s inflammatory response. Blackcurrant also contains omega-3 fatty acids, compounds known to aid in the reduction of inflammation.
Capsaicin, most commonly known for being the chemical compound responsible for the heat in cayenne pepper, possesses quite a few unique health benefits which range from digestive aid to helping with weight loss. Capsaicin provides pain relief by depleting levels of a particular neurotransmitter that helps send signals of pain back and forth. Apply capsaicin topically to alleviate localized pain and soreness and reduce inflammation.
Probably most known for its benefits to the skin and hair, carrot oil may also prove to be a useful tool to fight inflammation. Early in vitro studies have shown carrot seed oil’s potential anti-inflammatory properties due to its ability to reduce nitric oxide production.
Chamomile is probably one of the oldest and most widely used medicinal plants. Often most considered for its natural ability to curb irritability and anxiety, when applied topically, chamomile essential oil is able to penetrate deep below the surface of the skin to provide powerful pain relieving and anti-inflammatory properties.
Evening primrose oil comes from the seeds of the evening primrose plant and is most commonly found in as an oral supplement in capsule form. Like black currant oil, evening primrose oil contains GLA. Along with high concentrations of GLA, evening primrose oil also contains ferulic acid, the combination of the two which provide a powerful anti-inflammatory effect, lessening stiffness and swelling and reducing joint pain.
Long used in traditional medicine as an herbal remedy for ailments ranging from migraine headaches to stomach aches, feverfew is also useful in helping to reduce inflammation and control its resulting pain. Numerous studies have proven the effectiveness of feverfew as an anti-inflammatory agent, possibly due to its ability to relax contracted blood vessels and inhibit production of inflammatory prostaglandins.
Frankincense oil is derived from gum resin created from the sap of Boswellia tree bark. Research suggests that frankincense essential oil may be an effective topical pain reliever and anti-inflammatory agent. Frankincense oil’s added benefit of helping lower stress levels and alleviate anxiety make it a strong choice for treatment.
Ginger has a long history as a natural remedy, most notably for stomach ailments, but consumption and topical application of ginger essential oil has been shown to aid in the reduction of inflammation and pain without the side effects of most pharmaceutical medications. Ginger also encourages healing by promoting circulation.
Sometimes referred to as Everlasting Oil, helichrysum essential oil is derived from a member of the sunflower (Asteraceae) family that is native to the Mediterranean area. Helichrysum has long been used in traditional medicine for the treatment of fevers and healing of wounds. Research has shown that helichrysum oil is effective at decreasing muscular pain through its ability to decrease swelling and inflammation. The use of helichrysum essential oil can improve circulation and support the healing of muscle and joint tissue.
Lavender is an extremely versatile essential that soothes tennis elbow with its pain relieving and antispasmodic properties. Lavender’s calming properties help to lower stress hormone levels, whose presence can negatively affect the healing process.
Derived from the resin of the Egyptian myrrh tree, myrrh oil has been used since ancient times as a natural to treat wounds and address digestive issues. Recent studies have shown using frankincense alongside myrrh to be an effective option for the reduction inflammation.
Stinging nettle has been used for centuries as a natural remedy Nettle essential oil is taken from the stem and leaves of the plant. When used topically, nettle has been shown to act as an effective anti-inflammatory and analgesic, reducing stiffness and alleviating pain.
Peppermint essential oil possesses analgesic properties which, when applied topically to the affected area, combine with its cooling sensation to provide relief. Peppermint oil’s aromatic properties also help to promote relaxation and relief feelings of stress.
For thousands of years, people have used turmeric to treat conditions ranging from infection to indigestion. Recent studies have shown that the active anti-inflammatory agent in turmeric, curcumin, eases pain symptoms as much as ibuprofen in patients who suffered from arthritis. Clinical trials suggest turmeric to be one of the more effective herbs for lessening inflammation and relieving pain.
Other Natural Remedies for Treating Tennis Elbow
Essential oils offer a whole host of benefits to the user, and there are many other natural, inexpensive, and easy remedies to compliment their usage. Here are just a handful of other ways to treat tennis elbow:
The first and easiest step in self-healing really should be rest — rest for the injured area and rest for the body as a whole. For the fastest recovery possible, it’s imperative that you keep the affected arm relaxed so that the forearm can properly lessen tension. Plentiful amounts of restful sleep allow the body to optimally heal and regenerate tissue.
Stretching of the wrist while the elbow is extended may help with pain and range of movement recovery. Regular stretching helps to strengthen joint-supporting muscles and improve flexibility overall, lessening the likelihood of future occurrances of tennis elbow.
Using a rubber bar to do eccentric exercise has proven to be an effective pain reliever for several forms of tendonitis. Regular exercise increases strength to help prevent future cases of tennis elbow. Exercise also produces endorphins which help bring down the stress levels that pain can cause to spike.
Ice and Heat Therapies
The application of heat can provide feelings of relief from the pain and stiffness. Heat increases bloodflow, which encourages healing but the increased bloodflow can have the adverse effect of increased swelling and the pain associated with it. The use of ice is an easy way to locally decrease inflammation. Ice is also a gentle way to promote tissue regeneration. To see the most benefit, try and alternate the two treatments.
Other Natural Herbs and Supplements
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids are nutrients which are found in abundance in flax seed and fish oil and have been shown to help reduce inflammation and boost the effectiveness of anti-inflammatory medications.
- White Willow Bark Extract is considered to be nature’s aspirin, and due to its natural ability to hault the production of a particular type of prostaglandins, it is especially useful for treating pain and reducing inflammation without the harmful gastric side effects of aspirin.
- Cat’s Claw Extract, taken from the woody inner bark of a Peruvian vine, dates back to Incan civilizations in its use as a treatment for numerous inflammatory disorders. Initial studies have shown cat’s claw extract is as effective at treating inflammation as some prescription corticosteroids.
The Bottom Line
Repetitive strain injuries can be extremely painful to deal with, but there are many all-natural treatments available. The use of essential oils provides relief and promotes healing and is an easy, safe, and inexpensive option for treating tennis elbow.