By Doubletake CEO, Shawna Gwin Krasts
Tennis elbow really hurts. Some players might just feel a twinge now and then. They can even play through it, maybe wearing a brace on their forearm. But anyone who has really suffered from serious tennis elbow knows how painful and debilitating it can be. Playing tennis becomes impossible, which is super frustrating, especially when you love it, and have worked hard to get your game to a certain level. But what people don’t talk about enough is that tennis elbow can interfere with your daily life. Simple, routine activities can trigger severe pain. I know this for a fact, because it happened to me. I had trouble gripping almost anything, let alone a tennis racquet, especially if I tried to straighten my arm at the same time. So, my tennis elbow journey has been all about getting back on court, and living pain free.
Ok, some basic info… Tennis elbow, aka lateral epicondylitis, is caused by injury to the tendons that attach our forearm muscles to our bones. The tendons can be inflamed, or even torn—ouch! The repetitive motions involved in hitting tennis balls can cause this type of injury, but there are factors that make it more likely. Racquets that are too stiff, too heavy, too light or strung too tightly with unforgiving string—all can be bad for our arms. A single hitting session with the wrong racquet can cause tennis elbow pain to set in. (Be careful when you demo new racquets—opt for arm-friendly equipment if you’re susceptible to overuse injury.) Improper technique is also a risk, but how many social players have perfect technique? Bottom line: tennis elbow will probably affect quite a few of us at some point.
I developed tennis elbow for the first time years ago, not long after I started playing tennis as an adult. The pain was so intense that I absolutely had to stop playing. Rest was key, but I was impatient. I tried everything I could think of to speed my recovery. I went to physical therapy, got acupuncture treatments, underwent shockwave therapy and Active Release Therapy (both treatments work to stimulate or manipulate the tendons to induce healing).
Source: Thirdman - pexels.com
So, I spent a lot of money NOT playing tennis. (Not to mention all that time!) After seven months, I felt ready to play again, but with some added support. I wore a shock absorbing arm band for a while, (until it felt better to play without it). I made sure I warmed up carefully before playing—don’t let anyone tell you that ‘mini tennis’ is a waste of time! I took a few lessons to adjust my stroke mechanics—turns out following through high is good for my forehand AND my elbow. I used my Theraband FlexBar faithfully. (It’s a bendy rubber thing that you twist and release in a series of exercises to increase flexibility and strength.) Also, I had to stop playing with my husband—he hits the ball much harder than I’m used to and attempting to return his heavy shots was straining my elbow.
So, I was back in the swing for a few years, until I strained it during a clinic. The drill was simple enough. We were practicing 'dipping' the ball at our opponents' feet from the baseline while they were trying to approach the net. Great doubles shot, but I hit too many of them that day. Plus, I was exaggerating the motion required to create the necessary topspin, coming over the ball almost too much with an inadequate follow through. By the end of the clinic, I was hurting. I couldn’t believe my tennis elbow was back—not as bad as before, but bad enough. This time, I didn’t waste a minute, starting acupuncture therapy right away. Although acupuncture seemed to provide the most healing relief last time, I think it is better for the final step of the recovery process, not the first one. I needed a new, more definitive solution.
Like most of us when a problem arises, I started scouring the internet. That’s how I discovered the Fiix Elbow system. And yes, I’m going to sound like a commercial for a bit…
What’s Fiix? It’s an at-home therapy machine that straps onto your arm and works to treat tennis elbow “at the root cause,” according to its inventors. Fiix is designed to mimic ‘scraping,’ (or the Graston Technique) a deep tissue massage technique that manipulates the point of injury to break up scar tissue and adhesions. This allows more blood to flow to the area, which helps it to heal. In addition to sessions with the Fiix machine (ten minutes, three times a week), the Fiix method involves a series of stretches and exercises. Users can keep track of this multi-faceted approach with an app on their phones. Even though my husband was skeptical, Fiix sounded good to me. Maybe I just wanted to believe that there was a real solution out there? One that didn’t involve expensive appointments with physical therapists and specialists, something that would let me take control of the problem at home. Fiix comes with a money-back guarantee, so I really had nothing to lose. But I admit that I still hesitated. Perhaps after trying so many ‘solutions’ that didn’t work, I didn’t want to get my hopes up…
After my acupuncture treatments and over a months rest, my elbow was feeling better enough to allow me to play some tennis, but it was not a 100%. The nagging pain was inhibiting my ability to really hit the ball, plus it was interfering with other activities as well. I felt twinges during my Peloton workouts, especially when I leaned on the bike’s handlebars. The best way to describe it--my elbow felt swollen somehow, and tender.
Now, I was ready to get serious about Fiix. I called the owner of the company, Tim Porth, and he said I probably had scar tissue and adhesions that were preventing my elbow from healing completely. Until I took care of those, he told me, I’d never feel back to ‘normal.’ So I decided I had to give it a try.
Day 1: I attached the Fiix machine to my arm, after applying the minty smelling cream that comes with it to my elbow and forearm. This step helps the massage bars inside the Fiix slide more easily over the skin. About those massage bars... they are bits of metal about an inch wide on a belt inside the machine. Once you turn on the Fiix, the rotating belt drags the bars across your arm over and over. I admit I was a bit nervous about applying such pressure to an area that has been so sensitive. I’m happy to report, it didn’t hurt to use. I actually felt better after my first 10-minute session. The next day, I felt some muscle soreness in the area, but not any real pain.
I kept up with the therapy for about two weeks, using the Fiix machine and doing the exercises. Then I played a friendly match which felt pretty good. Afterwards, I realized that for the first time in a long time, I wasn’t holding back on my serve. I was rusty, but going for it.
Three weeks in, I started looking forward to my Fiix sessions—the overall sensation had become more soothing than uncomfortable in any way. I just sat there watching TV, while the machine quietly worked its magic. That said, I still noticed elbow pain during my Peloton workouts. I called Tim from Fiix. He said that it’s normal for pain to persist or worsen during the course of therapy. Overall, the Fiix treatment takes eight weeks, and it’s important to stick with it the whole time for best results.
After a month of Fiix, I played some pickleball and felt fine.
A couple of weeks later, I played tennis with a friend on a Saturday, and booked a ball machine on Monday. My elbow felt OK afterward, if not perfect. (I thought that was a good test—ball machine sessions provide a lot of intense, repetitive hitting.) I was worried that the pain might start up again after hitting so many groundstrokes, even if I didn't notice it immediately. So I kept up with the Fiix sessions and paid extra attention to how my elbow was feeling. After a week, I was so relieved that the pain never reestablished itself.
Source: Gaspar Zaldo - pexels.com
Hit the eight-week mark. I’m playing more tennis, and while I’m not completely pain-free– every now and then I’ll notice a twinge– but I’m feeling better, maybe even… cured. One true sign of my recovery—I’m not really thinking about tennis elbow. (When it’s really acting up, try not to think about it all day!) That said, since I wasn’t hurting, maybe I skipped a few Fiix sessions, and forgot to do the exercises here and there towards the end? I wanted to be honest about that, so anyone considering giving Fiix a try should know they could be even more strict about its protocols than I was.
Again—I’m back on court, and not worrying about my elbow which is great news—especially considering where I started. I’m going to stick with the smart approach to tennis—preventative gear, careful warm-ups, proper technique, stretching and strengthening—and I’ll have my Fiix Elbow therapy machine and acupuncturist at the ready just in case.