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Dissecting tennis elbow

OK, tennis elbow is driving me crazy. Three months now of periodic pain and swelling. Three weeks without a match and I’m losing it – playing air guitar with the vacuum cleaner and testing the limits of milk chocolate raisin consumption. While there is some relief in having a condition that my friends and relatives can pronounce, tennis elbow is complicated, painful, and usually long-term. The condition usually afflicts tennis players or people who use similar muscles repetitively. There is no “gold standard” for a doctor’s diagnosis, though ultrasound and MRI are becoming more available and useful for analysis. I was mortified that 80% of persons who suffered from tennis elbow for over a month required a year-long recovery! Needless to say, all of my other research projects are now on hold.

A few days of digging revealed yet another mystery in medicine. The underlying cause of tennis elbow (lateral epicondylitis) is under debate. New research explains that the condition should be called tendinosis, as the problem involves trauma and degeneration of the tendon rather than inflammation of nerve or bone. Exploration of the possible causes may help us better treat and avoid this condition, but I will first outline and compare the documented effectiveness of treatments available. Please consult a health professional before starting any program for treatment.



Related disorders

Underlying clues

It is up to each of us to discover the unique formula that best relieves our pain and inflammation. Most promising treatments appear to aggressively stimulate the immune system without regard for underlying imbalances or body chemistry. For best results, each person’s immune personality would shape their protocol, including intensity and frequency. To prevent future suffering, we also need to understand why our inflammation happened. Health journals and detailed recollections might reveal bacterial infections, spinal misalignments, allergy exposure, or overuse injury that may be overlooked as triggers of tendonosis and pose future threats to health. As in every good game of tennis…know your opponent!

Update June 1: My tennis elbow is 90% improved after these efforts:

1) My thumb joint pain increased with my elbow pain, and my tennis racket handle was almost unbearable. After unwrapping the grip, I noticed the handle edges were sharp, and my husband sanded them down before rewrapping with a heavy cushion grip. This helped my thumb sprain heal which corresponded to improvements in my elbow!

2) I lowered the amount of oxalates consumed in my diet that affected my pain levels. Nuts, spinach, chocolate, tea, and herbal supplements were high sources of oxalate in my diet. Calcium oxalate crystals can settle in susceptible bones, tissues and joints and increase inflammation. This metabolic problem is starting to reveal clues to chronic conditions, including my intestinal permeability that contributed to celiac disease. I suffered for 2-3 years with heart tissue pain and valve disruption that I linked to dietary oxalates. Daily vitamin K-2 was also critical in preventing the problem. I have not been careful about my oxalate consumption in the past year, enjoying homemade granola for the past 6 months!

3) By using a triangular ‘wedge’ pillow from my chiropractor Dr. Wooley, the curvature in my neck is returning to normal. This may have helped open the vertebrae and channels for healing, as the nerves run from the neck down the elbow and thumb.

4) With a nudge from Dr. Wooley, I started antifungal herbs that have improved my immune system by clearing my sinuses, reducing food cravings, and allowing for better sleep. The a-ha moment came when I found research that explained how oxalates are produced by fungus. I hope that the antifungals have reduced the amount of circulating oxalates as well!

5) Taking probiotics is just as important as antifungals. With chronic candida, there is an imbalance of good bacteria in the gut and risk of increased permeability that can prevent healing throughout the body.

Update January 2012: My tennis elbow is 100% improved after some final key steps:

1) In September I discovered a photo of me holding an ice pack on my elbow during Christmas vacation last year – two weeks before my chronic pain started. I had bumped my elbow on a chair and forgotten about the injury! Obviously I had aggravated it with tennis before it was able to heal. 

2) Though my elbow pain had not disappeared, I had new pain after badly spraining my left ankle in September. By November my ankle was still very sore, and I explored a wide variety of treatments including hot/cold baths, exercises, and nutrition. I had both good and bad results with laser therapy on my elbow, so I purchased my own unit to control the settings and treatment time. The more affordable TQ solo unit from MultiRadiance Medical began working on my ankle and mobility.

3) The TQ Solo from MultiRadiance Medical has super pulsed delivery of photons, including 905 nm laser wavelength, 875 nm infrared wavelength, and 660 nm red wavelength. This major investment started paying off with reduced ankle pain. However, my elbow was much slower to heal, especially when I was limiting my treatments to the high frequency settings meant for range of motion and acute injury. Once I treated my elbow with the lower frequency at 50 Hz and 5 Hz, the pain erased immediately. These laser frequencies work best for inflammation and tissue repair. I also used the laser along the cervical spine where my elbow nerves originate. By January 2012, the pain was 100% gone!

4) Lowering oxalates while increasing calcium foods appears to have improved my elbow pain as well as other vague body aches. I am certain that oxalate crystals deposited in the injured tissues and irritated the nerves. Increasing calcium and probiotics while lowering oxalate-rich foods can help the body eliminate oxalates. High-oxalate foods such as baked potatoes continue cause a slight pang of pain within 24 hours. Herbs such as tumeric and cayenne and foods such as kale and spinach also associate with vague aches and pains in my body. Many autoimmune conditions such as celiac, fibromyalgia, and cystic fibrosis are associated with oxalate sensitivity, possibly due to an enzyme and probiotic deficiency.

This journey has illuminated the connection between oxalate metabolism and chronic pain in my body. Low-level laser therapy probably increased the nitric oxide levels and circulation in challenged tendons surrounding my elbow, obviously improving healing in painful areas afflicted by oxalate crystal deposits. Considering this success, I recommend cold laser therapy and a low-oxalate diet to others with autoimmune conditions experiencing acute injury and chronic pain.

Good luck!

1 comment to Dissecting tennis elbow

  • D.M.

    Thanks so much for sharing your story and experience of what works and what doesn’t. I have a cold laser, so I found your description of the appropriate Hz settings very helpful. I hope your elbow continued to improve.

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