When Spring hit for me this year, the overloading I’ve been putting myself through for the last year finally hit my body. A sudden upswing in client appointments occurred at the same time I was dealing with a hacker on one of the websites I help with. The hacker caused me to put in unexpected hours in front of the computer and miss the Taiji classes that help me maintain my mobility. I don’t know which was the straw that broke the camel’s back, but I found myself with an elbow on the way to a case of lateral epicondylitis (tennis elbow). It was time to head that fate off at the pass.
Lateral epicondylitis is basically a very painful elbow, on the outside of the elbow. Today, a common way people fall into it is to spend too much time in front of the computer, especially if your computing involves a lot of mouse clicking. It’s basically an overuse of the extensor muscles that allow you to lift your wrist and fingers, and is often exacerbated by a rotation of the arm away from the body at the elbow. I could feel the chain of muscles from the forearm to the elbow through the shoulder and neck tighten and become ropy.
It is very important when your body starts to talk to you with the message of pain that you stop and pay attention. There is a window of opportunity with an injury like this that is very short. If you take action at the first sign, you can turn it around much faster than if you let it blossom into a full medically diagnosable injury. Repetitive stress injuries don’t just happen overnight. If you catch one near the beginning you could be looking at a month-long limitation, while if it goes on to become full-blown it could bother you for years.
While tennis elbow may not be an injury you are prone to, the process of responding to pain in order to avoid more serious injury is one that is relevant right now, as we head into weekend gardener and weekend athlete season. So here’s what I did to help myself:
- Figure out the offending movements and put them on hiatus for at least a month. Redouble my efforts to keep good form and body mechanics. At home, I am limiting computer use. At work, in my targeted knotwork deep tissue sessions, I am not doing forearm massage and am steeply limiting the braced fingers “snowplowing” stroke from direct myofascial release. Instead I am using bamboo sticks, and doing trigger point release with NMT-bars. I am also doing much more indirect myofascial release (John Barnes style), and have done more cupping sessions.
- Rest as much as possible – I have put a lock on my schedule at 4 sessions per day. Unfortunately, that means it is nearly impossible to get a session at the last minute right now. At the time of this blog post, I am booking appointments for the end of May. The front desk is keeping a waiting list, so that if someone cancels earlier we can call and offer that time. I also know other independent therapists doing different styles of bodywork in Champaign, so I might be able to help with a referral.
- Get professional bodywork as soon as possible to break the chain of muscle spasm, so I could get some “slack” in the system. I was fortunate that this was the week that Wendy Halle, who visits Studio Helix one week a month, was in town. I was able to get a session with her to break through the neck and shoulder issues that I couldn’t reach well myself.
- Do self massage with tools (so that I don’t overwork my “good” arm). On a daily basis, I do self-trigger pointing with a Theracane in my shoulder muscles, gently and carefully massage the back of my neck with a Tiger Tail, roll my forearms with a Roleo tool, and thoroughly knead my arms from wrist to shoulder. I also find time to lay face up on a hard surface and traction my neck with a CranioCradle. (These tools are all readily available in online stores.)
- Don’t skimp on gentle joint mobilization exercise. My preferred form of gentle joint mobilization is Qigong exercises from Chen-style Taiji.
- Use ice and liniments for temporary pain relief, especially during the first week, and use ibuprofen if necessary. I used Tiger Balm, as I had it on hand.
I’ve got a few articles at my website, if you want to know more tips.