My recent EDS flare seems to have aggravated my tennis elbow pain
Columnist Karen Del Vecchio considers the source of yet another painful injury
Sometimes my Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (EDS) manifests in unexpected ways. While dealing with a pain flare and a lot of stress at work recently, I started to notice more pain in my right elbow. I was hoping it would decline as my flare subsided, and while it’s certainly better, the pain is still there.
I’m pretty sure the original injury happened during the cold snap that we had right before Christmas. I was working solo on the farm where I live, and I spent several days in a row breaking up ice in water troughs with a hammer. The repetitive motion and hard impact seemed to have triggered the soreness. While I’ve noticed it on and off since then, it wasn’t too bad until recently.
I wondered for a while if my elbow pain had something to do with the finger I shattered in 2020, as the pain sometimes travels between my elbow and my hand. Although my finger healed well, the surgeon told me that the bone was in so many pieces that it was impossible to get it completely straight. As a result, while the finger works quite well, it doesn’t straighten all the way when I bend it into a fist, instead twisting toward my thumb. I wondered if perhaps the torque of that twisted movement was causing pain up my arm and into my elbow.
But it certainly seemed to get worse during my most recent pain flare. That makes sense, but I’d been hoping the pain would subside along with the flare. Unfortunately, no such luck.
I started to wonder if the pain was based in my elbow and radiating down to my hand, rather than the other way around, so I did some research online. I soon discovered that my hunch appeared to be correct: Given the location of my pain, I seemed to have tennis elbow, or lateral epicondylitis. This injury often occurs due to overuse or muscle strain, such as from repetitive motion, causing inflammation in the structures around the elbow. I guess beating ice with a hammer qualifies.
Fortunately and unfortunately, not much can be done for a mild case of tennis elbow. If it’s severe, steroid shots can help calm it, and some cases may even require surgery. But, like the plantar fasciitis I was dealing with last year, the best way to facilitate healing is simply through time and rest.
However, I also learned that tennis elbow is fairly common among those of us with EDS.
Years ago, that revelation would’ve bothered me — yet another “EDS thing” I have to deal with! Now, though, I try not to be so pessimistic. Yep, it sucks that I’m apparently dealing with tennis elbow. But the condition is fairly common, even among those who are generally healthy. It usually resolves on its own after a few months of taking care not to aggravate it anew.
In the grand scheme of things, I could be dealing with something a whole lot worse.
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I learned a little technique after years of conventional PT, from a PT fresh from a seminar on EDS that has helped my elbow, shoulder, wrist, and hand from time to time that can be done on oneself which is easy to consider and either like or dismiss, everyone is different, but it works on my sister and me. It applies very mild "opposite" support adjacent to the hurting places. Like for the elbow I gently grab the middle of my upper arm with my other hand and isometrically stretch my arm downward and hold that for about 5 or 10 seconds, letting my elbow and hand hang straight down below totally relaxed. We're talking pressure that's about like petting a kitten. There is no motion, just the gentle support sensation to the three bones below meeting in the elbow. It sometimes takes a couple of times spaced over the next hour and gently jiggling my upper arm a tiny bit, but it can tend to relieve the elbow somewhat. Similarly, hubby's "opposite" inward support of the shoulder/clavicle area on the upper back, with isometric light pressure that allows the tension in the shoulder to release and relax in place without loosening anything. The one for the wrist uses the other hand gently placed behind, above, or at the side to be "opposite" where the issue is to support it. Easier to see or experiment with than to write down in words. It was pretty easy to learn, maybe your PT knows this one. Providing the not-quite-right tense painful area with external support somehow gives the inner tension permission to relax, she told me. May be worth a try, hope that helps. I've used it on the backs of my fingers, back of my wrist, upper arm for my elbow, and upper back for my shoulder and (a bit lower for my clavicle for about 15 years. This is not meant to be advice, I am not a PT and have no knowledge about the field, check with and follow your practitioners advice.
I too have experienced both tennis elbow and golfers elbow -- ironically, I play neither sport. However, the gift of EDS can sometimes bring on a flare of either ( mostly golfers elbow/lower interior elbow pain) often seeming random to any activity. Your suspicion of overuse or repetitive motion, is where I usually land with explanation.