Here's my bold claim: Advanced Massage Therapy techniques are the best way to treat your own Tennis Elbow! Are there medical studies to back me up? No. This is my opinion, but give me a chance and I'll make a good case for you...
As a Neuromuscular Therapist (You can think of me as a "Glorified Massage Therapist" with extra training, if that makes it easier) – Here's my bio
I've been specializing in treating Tennis and Golfer's Elbow for about 15 years now – Very successfully!
Meaning that I've been able to help the vast majority of Golfer's and Tennis Elbow sufferers fully recover – For the most part by using these three Massage techniques, AKA 'Manual Therapy.'
And, for the past 10 years or so, I've been teaching people with Tennis and Golfer's Elbow how to use these Advanced Massage Techniques to treat themselves at home.
If you'd like to learn more about my programs,
For Tennis Elbow sufferers: Tennis Elbow Self-Massage Home Program
For Golfer's Elbow sufferers: Golfer's Elbow Self-Massage Home Program
Podcast Version (Listen On The Go!)
(You can download this podcast episode, play it later and keep it if you want.) Just click the "download" link below - And please subscribe on your favorite platform:
Can You Really Learn These Self-Massage Techniques And Use Them Effectively?
Now, I understand that, right off the bat, you may be skeptical and are wondering to yourself:
“How could I possibly learn these methods and apply them as effectively as a professional, like yourself, Allen!?”
Well, you can't instantly become as proficient as I've become with these Massage Therapy techniques after decades of experience. Obviously. I'd be lying if I said you could...
BUT you don't have to be! The upside is that once you get the basic hang of it, you have all the time in the world to work on yourself.
Instead of going in for just 1 or 2 treatments a week in a therapists clinic, like mine, (also quite expensive, honestly. I charge 145. an hour) you can apply these powerful therapies anytime you want, anywhere you want.
- You don't need to “master” these techniques to be effective...
- You just need to apply them with some consistency!
That's a powerful thing! – Knowing what to do and doing it regularly…
(And not wasting a second on useless and potentially harmful, recovery-slowing “treatments” like icing, braces and, Heaven-forbid, Cortisone shots!)
Here are some of the success stories some of my student/members have been kind enough to share as evidence of the effectiveness of this self-help treatment program:
Why Massage Therapy Is The Missing Link In Tennis Elbow TreatmentI truly believe Massage Therapy is the “Missing Link” when it comes to treating the true, underlying causes of Tennis Elbow.
And reversing that nasty, vicious injury cycle that few things touch – Literally, few things TOUCH at ALL, except, possibly in the most superficial way.
Because nothing else “get's into” the muscle and tendon restrictions at the root of it better (Again, in my opinion, based on a great deal of experience.)
Nothing gets into and releases the “issues in the tissues,” like good, old-fashioned, hands-on Massage Therapy.
(Well, maybe not literally, “old fashioned” like Swedish Massage – I'm actually talking about more advanced techniques.)
I do, however, well remember being taught in my basic Massage Therapy training 30 years ago, and later repeatedly reading this same, stern prohibition…
“You shouldn't massage these kinds of tendon injuries because they're inflamed and swollen!”
And I wouldn't be surprised if you were a little concerned about this, yourself, but that's a misconception you don't actually need to worry about!
However, believing that mistaken idea, many less-experienced Massage Therapists may avoid your Tennis Elbow injury and tell you not to “disturb” it yourself...
Inflammation! Oh, NO!!
But nothing could be further from the truth. Most cases of Tennis Elbow are in desperate need of literally being “disturbed!”
Liberated from their constricting, claustrophobic braces and mobilized, released – stretched and strengthened.
Now, you would not actually do deep massage on an area that was truly inflamed, significantly swollen and/or recently injured (Acutely injured, like a sprain, strain or a fracture)…
However, that is almost never the issue with Tennis or Golfer's Elbow.
- It's NOT a sprain or a strain – (types of tears)…
- It's NOT inflamed – (not significantly, anyway)...
- It's not swollen – (I've never seen a swollen Tennis Elbow)...
- It's not even Tendonitis (usually.)
It's almost always something called Tendinosis, which is not an inflammatory condition by nature. It's a completely different "animal."
(Read more about the difference between TendonITIS and TendinOSIS here, because it's such an important distinction!)
How Massage Therapy Treats The Underlying Causes Of The Injury
I should point out that not all Tennis Elbow injuries are the same, of course.
There are many degrees of injury severity, from very mild to so severe only surgery can fix it – and the nature of the injury varies somewhat.
What most people have, though – What I call a “classic case” of Tennis Elbow, is a tendon or tendons that have become overloaded and have begun to break down. (Tendinosis)
And that breakdown – the injury – is usually more gradual and microscopic.
Think “Micro-Trauma” and picture a rope that has gotten frayed and its fibers have gotten a little rotten in places...
Rather than a “big rip” or tear (which is what people too often imagine, and is actually rare.)
What has happened to those tendons is a degenerative breakdown process that's in desperate need of healing.
But that healing isn't happening – The tendon's regeneration process has been overwhelmed and has failed (for reasons medical researchers still don't really seem to understand)
It's stuck – both literally and figuratively.
- The healing process is stuck, in the sense that the healing and repair of the tendon has stalled and failed to keep up with the damage,
- And the muscles and tendons are usually Literally stuck! – (“Gummed up” with what we call 'Ahesions')
In the simplest terms, stuckness and stagnation are the essence of Tennis Elbow.
So, what does it take to reverse this nasty, stuck state of affairs?
Mobilization and circulation!With Massage Therapy as the key tool to unlock the stuckness.
My recipe, my formula for breaking this vicious cycle is to physically get in there (with advanced Massage techniques) and release the stuckness and to bring much-needed blood flow to the tendons (to break the state of stagnation.)
And the good news is this is something you can learn to do yourself!
There are usually tons of of sticky Ahesions binding layers of muscles in the forearm together.
And this a very sneaky, insidious process that happens over months and even years, gradually causing your muscles to become more and more restricted…
Often without producing much in the way of symptoms that would bring your attention to it!
The consequences are twofold:
- The tighter and more restricted / stuck the muscles get, the weaker they get…
- AND the more they tend to pull or “drag” on and tax their tendons
From my perspective (and it seems pretty intuitive) this is the direct cause of the excessive load that eventually damages the tendon(s).
What are people told, though?
Blame “Dr. Evil” – Inflammation! – Ice it! Brace it... Rest it... Inject it!
NO! Pleeeease don't do any of those things!
Just like funky, nasty, stagnant water needs oxygen and movement to clear, damaged, degenerated tendons need circulation – Blood flow – MOTION to heal!…
We need to gently continue moving and to mobilize the area with Massage Therapy to bring better circulation and to literally break up the stuckness; the sticky ahesions in the muscles.
And we need to stimulate those tendons – Not leave them alone.
What Are The 3 Best Massage Techniques?
There are TWO major goals, and one minor, when it comes to treating the muscular and tendon issues in the tissues.
- Releasing muscle adhesions,
- Stimulating the tendons,
- And, sometimes, separating the tendons
And there are only two Advanced Massage Therapy techniques you really need for treating your own Tennis Elbow (and possibly an optional third)...
- Pin And Stretch – A Muscle Adhesion-Releasing Technique: To restore normal muscular flexibility (to take the load off the tendons)
- Cross Fiber Friction – A Tendon-Stimulating Technique: To encourage circulation, and to physically disturb and break the cycle of stagnation that happens in the tendons.
- And Press And Twist – A Tendon-Separating Technique: To separate the tendons at - and just above the Epicondyle (the "Tennis Elbow spot")
These are the Advanced Massage Therapy techniques that I use with my patients in my clinic with great results…
AND I teach my student/members here at Tennis Elbow Classroom in the self-help treatment programs:
Tennis Elbow sufferers: Learn more about the program here.
Golfer's Elbow sufferers: Learn more about the program here.
Actually, I have other, additional techniques and variations of those techniques, especially with Golfer's Elbow.
But when it comes to Tennis Elbow the first two, 'Pin And Stretch' and 'Cross Fiber Friction' are essential.
I believe these techniques are the best because I've seen them work incredibly well over the past 15 years…
They really get at the stuck stuff that's at the root of most Tennis Elbow Sufferer's vicious injury cycles.
Note: if you're looking for detailed instructions on these techniques, that's the core of what I teach my student/members in the Tennis and Golfer's Elbow programs.
Sure, you can always pick up a few free Tennis Elbow tips and tricks from various sources here and there (and that may be enough for you if your injury is very minor - or you're just not that concerned about it)...
BUT if you have an injury that's really disrupting your life and bringing you down, wouldn't it make sense to learn the right way to perform these self-massage techniques from a pro?
A professional who actually treats people by hand in person, and has decades of experience doing so, as well as helping people learn how to treat themselves?
Compared to someone who is merely a virtual, online "expert" - who has never actually treated anyone in their "career?"
(I've had members tell me that although there are tons of free "tips and tricks" all over the Internet, my videos are so much more detailed and instructive - And, of course, I'm also there in the Members' Forum to answer questions.)
Will ANY Massage Therapy Technique Help The Tendon Healing Process?
In my perspective and from my experience, basic Massage is better than nothing, but it is often not enough.
The problem is that general 'Swedish Massage' and other, similar kinds of Massage are just not specific enough.
And specificity is key.
General rubbing and kneading massage is fine up to a point. There is still value in that.
But more specific, advanced techniques are much more effective when it comes to addressing the issues in the tissues.
It takes a certain combination of pressure and tension to efficiently break up adhesions.
And you also need to be very focused in “getting in there” and breaking the state of stagnation in the tendons (not merely a general rubbing of the area, although, again, that's a start.)
Yes, this does involve some work. I won't deny it or try to minimize it.
(I always laugh out loud when I come across those who claim you can “Cure” your Tennis Elbow with just 5 minutes of work a day! – or whatever. Yeah, Riiight!)
However, it doesn't mean you have to spend all day on it.
There is a lot to be said for working smarter – Not harder!
How Effective Is Trigger Point Massage For Tennis Elbow?
I've seen a fair amount of talk online about Trigger Points relating to Tennis Elbow and the strategy of using massage to treat these trigger points. But I'm not a big fan of the Trigger Point treatment model and here's why...
Yes, there is a real, medically-verified Neuromuscular phenomenon, called a 'Trigger Point.'
Trigger points are said to be highly excited, irritable spots in bands of tight muscle tissue, which often cause pain and other sensations in predictable patterns that are specific to each muscle and trigger point.
And they are usually very tender or outright painful when pressed on.
(Not to be confused with “Pressure Points,” which is more or less a nonsense term, as anywhere one puts pressure becomes a defacto “Pressure Point” and, since that's utterly non-specific, it becomes meaningless.)
Trigger Points are also well known to cause or 'Refer' pain up to a significant distance away from the point itself (called 'Referred Pain' and 'Pain Referral Patterns.')
(Such as a Trigger Point in a shoulder muscle referring pain down that arm – Even to the hand.)
And as a Neuromuscular Therapist, I've found and occasionally worked on many Trigger Points in my patients over the years.
However, I have never focused on or “chased” them down, or even looked at them as primary, causative sources of any given injury or pain pattern.
I regard them as secondary symptoms – As in symptoms that cause other symptoms – Not the primary cause. Not the root of the problem.
Now, I'm not saying that it doesn't “work” to locate Trigger Points and press on them (painfully) until they “calm down.”
This does often work. The problem is that the pain relief is typically temporary.
From my perspective and understanding, dysfunctional muscles often “have” or “form” Trigger Points…
Trigger Points do not cause dysfunctional muscles.
So pressing on them often doesn't produce a lasting change.
We often need to do a lot more than simply treat a Trigger Point in order to correct a dysfunctional, painful muscle.
As in, thoroughly release the adhesions in that muscle (and sometimes it's 'Opposing Muscle(s))'
So, feel free to find them if you can and press on them, but that's not going to release the stubborn, sticky adhesions that have likely formed in your muscles.
And pressing on Trigger Points isn't going to do much to break the cycle of stagnation and degeneration that defines most tendon injuries at the root of most cases of Tennis Elbow.
More dynamic techniques are needed to effectively accomplish that critical task.
What About Tennis Elbow Massage Tools And Techniques Involving Tools?
I've seen some good, some bad and some ugly self-massage tools for self-treating Tennis Elbow and Golfer's Elbow!
Some tools are meant to aid in pressing very deeply on those aforementioned Trigger Points, instead of using your thumbs, which is fine if you're going to go down that road.
And there are tools that are specifically designed for releasing adhesions that utilize a hard edge.
You “scrape” these tools over your skin and press down into your muscles.
I think the 'Graston Technique' (often performed by Chiropractors and occasionally by Physiotherapists and Physical Therapists) may be the first tool of this kind.
But I have concerns about this approach. I think it's a little too easy to be too aggressive and overdo it.
I've seen too many people, and pictures of people, who are all red or black and blue later on from this technique.
(Big red splotches and black and blue bruises are signs of broken capillaries, which is a form of trauma.)
More trauma and more damage is not appropriate, in my mind.
In surgery it's to be expected, of course, and that's the exception. You can't have a surgical procedure without a certain amount of trauma and damage.
But I think it's too aggressive for a Soft Tissue Therapy approach.
Rolling Your Muscles With Massage Rollers
One method that seems fairly popular is using a Massage Roller tool or "stick” to roll over the muscles involved.
I don't think it brings much to the party, though. Again, like basic massage, it's better than nothing, but I also think it's too limited (and often unnecessarily painful!)
Rolling over these sticky, muscular adhesions we've been talking about is not an efficient way to release them.
Just pressure pushing down on the muscle and rolling over it is like trying to separate Velcro by crushing it.
Vercro is a good analogy for adhesions; “millions” of little hooks, hooking together and keeping it all stuck together.
“Techy” explanation: We're really talking about Collagen, here.
It's the common protein that tendons are made of and it forms the matrix that muscles inhabit and pull on.
And Collagen has an innate ability to 'cross link' and bind to itself. (It has to be able to in order to form complex structures, like tendons and ligaments.)
But the downside is, that 'cross-linking' tendency becomes a liability when it happens too much in the wrong place.
And that happens a lot in muscles when they are too tight, overworked, and biochemically stressed.
In the earliest stages, ahesions can simply be “stretched out” and/or massaged out with minimal effort – and prevented from getting more dense and stuck.
However, as this process progresses, (think more and more Vecro hooks strongly binding layers apart) it becomes more and more difficult to release and separate them.
Past a certain, early stage, you can't just easily stretch, strengthen or lightly massage them away.
It gets to a point where you need that special combination of pressure and tension to get the job done.
And this is usually the case, once someone has developed Tennis or Golfer's Elbow.
Again, even if you just started to have telltale elbow pain of one type or the other, that adhesion process has likely already been underway for months – if not years.
Ultimately, there is nothing in this world that comes close to what the human hand can accomplish.
What If You Are Just Starting To Have Symptoms That “Might” Be Tennis Elbow?
If you're just starting to experience pain, stiffness, soreness and other symptom warning signs of Tennis Elbow, then simple, general massage may be enough to help you turn things around.
(Which you can see I've linked to my articles about, so you can understand WHY these so-called treatments are dead wrong!)
Honestly, you may not need my program and my more Advanced Techniques if you're at the very earliest stage of Tennis Elbow.
It can be enough for some people just to become aware of their problem and to start taking corrective action, like stretching more, taking more downtime…
And doing some basic massage on their forearm muscles (or getting some professional massage)
However! Once the injury progresses beyond the earliest stage or two and becomes more chronic, (It persists for a few months or keeps coming back)...
Then basic, general massage techniques may not be enough to break the cycle.
I would suggest that if you've already been struggling for a few months or more, become a member and get started with my program now, don't keep “Resting, Hoping and Waiting”
Or messing around with lessor techniques and symptomatic remedies.
Learn To Treat And Heal Your Own Tennis Elbow Or Golfer's Elbow At Home With This Video Program
I'll be your personal tutor guiding you through step-by-step video lessons, where you'll get the therapy techniques, key stretches and essential exercises you need to treat and recover from your injury at home. (Without any special equipment.)
Tennis Elbow sufferers, get started here: Tennis Elbow Home Program
Golfer's Elbow sufferers, get started here: Golfer's Elbow Home Program