My “Tennis” Elbow
If you have tennis elbow from pickleball, I sympathize, I really do. From experience.
In November 2018, after a demanding tournament (we lost the gold medal match 15-13), I started developing severe tennis elbow in my right arm. By that January 1, hitting shots resulted in immediate intense pain. I had to stop playing. Even shaking hands literally brought tears to my eyes. I had to drive to work left-handed. Taking a milk container out of the fridge could be only be done pain-free with my left hand.
I didn’t want to give up playing, so I started playing lefty. It was frustrating. Serving was the worst. But to speed the process, I did as much as I could at home off-handed. Brushing my teeth, combing my hair, eating dinner. Lefty, lefty, lefty. It was gradual, but I developed skill. Good thing too, since my elbow was so bad, it took me almost two years to figure out what helped advance the healing process for me, and get back to playing right-handed,
And please know, one of the first things I did when it got bad was to check with my doctor. I am not a doctor and below is what worked for me. It’s not medical guidance, don’t sue me!
• Play with your off-hand to give your dominant arm time to rest. Rest is important.
• Get a BandIT forearm strap. (I tried others.) I added a wad of padding so it would apply more pressure lengthwise along my arm exactly on tennis elbow muscle.
• Buy a Black Ice cooling strap. I keep this in the fridge and use it frequently I got home from the courts with any kind of pain—forearm, knee, wrist. It’s “wrap and forget” and can’t give you frostbite.
• Some people have success with an ProKennex paddle for tennis elbow. Personally, I had much more success with the Players Rogue 2 paddle. If you opt for one, here’s a link to a discount: http://i.refs.cc/EnHVjrYU?u=1603221968873
(In mid-2022, I bought a second paddle, a new Rogue2 Carbon, Hybrid Shape, Gel-Core. Now, over a year later, it’s still going strong. Yes, they give me a small credit if you use the link above…but as of updating this, in past week, I’ve seen the same paddle locally in use by five other regular players who never talked to me about paddles. They just love the paddle like me. I’d never provide a link here if I didn’t love mine. I’ve actually been asked to promote paddles from other brands but I turned them down—I’m sticking with my Rogue 2!)
I’ll also add that some players have had some tennis elbow success with PBZ paddles. They are unorthodox, but if the Rogue 2 hadn’t done it for me, I would have tried the PBZ next.
• Whatever paddle you decide on, add an overgrip. I find many players have a grip that’s too small for them. The grip also adds cushion to further soften the shock of ball impacts on the forearm. The tennis-based guide when gripping your handle is having space the width of your index finger between the end of the gripping index finder and the fleshy part at the base of your thumb.
• I picked up a used rechargeable massage gun. It helps blood flow and the additional claim is that it will help break up scar tissue. Regardless, it feels good on my arm.
• Some people swear by electrical stimulus devices. It did make my muscle contract, but it didn’t seem to improve things much and I discontinued using it after a few times. Admittedly, likely not enough of a true test, but I found it a hassle to use.
• My doctor recommended a Theraband Flexbar that he used himself to address his own tennis elbow. The yellow version is the easiest with the least resistance. Even with that, it was too painful and I had to wait months to use it to help develop strength in my forearm. Truth is, I barely use it now, but should.
• Be patient. Depending on the severity, you may take many months to heal up. I probably delayed healing by testing out my dominant right hand in play too soon. If you have any pain in your forearm/elbow, I’d recommend waiting.
Now, a few years later, tennis elbow barely bothers me. I still use my forearm strap every time I play and use my Black Ice cooling strap after playing as often as I can. The massage gun gets used a couple times a week when I think of it. It’s mostly preventative. And now having accurate lefty shots does add a dimension to my game—like being able to reach an otherwise unreachable ball by switching to my left hand and hit a lefty ATP!
You may want to follow at least some of my blogged experiences, including my doctor visit. You can start on the fateful New Year’s Day that changed my pickleball . . . well, journey!