Acupuncture treats elbow pain
Elbow pain is one of the four most common categories of pain conditions I see in the clinic. Needless to say, elbows get a lot of use, which translates into wear and tear. In addition to activities we do at work, a lot of the recreational activities we love so much can lead to elbow pain too.
When treating pain, I often recommend twice weekly treatments for the first few weeks to encourage speedy resolution of pain symptoms. I then follow up with a few more weeks of weekly treatment to consolidate relief and make sure you stay pain-free. After that, we can discuss maintenance strategies.
What are the different types of elbow you treat with acupuncture?
Golfer’s elbow (medial epicondylitis) and tennis elbow (lateral epicondylitis)
Golfer’s elbow and tennis elbow are caused by irritation of the tendons that connect the forearm muscles to the elbow joint from overusing the wrist and forearm muscles. The causes of golfer’s elbow and tennis elbow include overuse, improper form/technique in athletic activities (golf, tennis, weightlifting, throwing) or other repetitive motions (manual labor). These conditions are common in athletes, workers performing manual labor, and musicians. The symptoms of golfer’s elbow and tennis elbow are pain and inflammation on the inside (golfer’s) or outside (tennis) of the elbow that may spread to the forearm and wrist, stiffness and weakness, and possibly numbness and tingling.
Bursitis is the inflammation of the small fluid-filled bursae that act as cushions between the bone, tendons, and muscles of joints. The most common causes of elbow bursitis are repetitive motion (athletics or manual labor) and leaning on elbows. Symptoms of elbow bursitis include achy and stiff elbow pain, elbow pain upon movement or pressure, and swelling and redness in the elbow.
The ends of bones are covered in protective cartilage, which prevents the bones from rubbing together in the joint. Osteoarthritis results when this cartilage wears down over time, which means the bones rub together. Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic, inflammatory autoimmune disease that causes joints to swell and bones to become deformed when immune cells attack the joint tissues. The causes of arthritis include advanced age, injury, obesity, inactivity, overuse and immune system disorder in the case of rheumatoid arthritis. The symptoms of elbow arthritis include pain, tenderness, stiffness, loss of flexibility, sound of grating in the joint, and bone spurs.
How is elbow pain diagnosed by my doctor?
Diagnosing the cause of elbow pain involves:
- Discussing medical history
- Physical exam, including assessing pain in the elbow joint
- Imaging tests, such as X-ray, MRI, or electromyography
- Fluid or blood tests can detect an infection
What will my doctor suggest as a treatment for elbow pain?
Treatments for elbow pain include:
- Icing the affected area
- Over-the-counter and/or prescribed pain medications
- Physical therapy to increase strength in forearm and wrist muscles and tendons
- Steroid injections
- Surgery and/or joint replacement
More and more orthopedists and other Western medical providers are recommending acupuncture to treat pain. It is not out of the ordinary for your doctor to suggest you get acupuncture treatments before you have a chance to tell him/her you’re going for acupuncture treatment.
How does an acupuncturist diagnose elbow pain
To determine the cause of your elbow pain, I use physical exam techniques, like orthopedic and neurological tests, and range of motion tests. I will also examine the area for inflammation, redness, or other visible manifestations.
How does acupuncture treat pain?
Acupuncture treats pain by improving circulation, reducing inflammation and relaxing spasmed muscles. I use acupuncture above and below the injured joint, and use what acupuncture calls “mirror points.” Mirror points would include the unaffected elbow and the knees (the elbows of the legs, so to speak).
Herbal medicine can be used too. Herbal medicine works similarly to acupuncture, but does so from the inside out. For smaller joints like those in the hands, feet, and the elbow, I often prescribe an external herbal soak. I also use tui na massage, cupping and gua sha (in certain instances) to help support acupuncture treatments.
According to Chinese medicine theory, applying ice is counter-productive to healing because it hinders circulation in that area. In the case of the inflamed, red joints, we use “herbal ice” plasters to reduce inflammation while also promoting the circulation of blood.