As a movement professional, you probably know that you don’t have to play tennis to experience tennis elbow. Lateral epicondylitis is one of the most common upper extremity complaints. However, many physical therapists, personal trainers, and other specialists have a tough time treating this painful condition.

In this article, the team at Gray Institute® discusses this complicated condition, its causes, treatment options, and ways you can prevent tennis elbow with Applied Functional Science (AFS).

What Causes Tennis Elbow?

Lateral epicondylitis is typically described as a painful condition caused by overuse of the elbow, where the surrounding muscles and tendons are overstressed and trigger pain. While overuse is true to this situation, we would argue that the cause may be the underuse of the rest of the body. That’s because tennis elbow is really a symptom.

Tennis elbow got its name from the backhand stroke used within the game. The quick biomechanical breakdown of this stroke for a right-handed backhand is as follows:

  • The “load” of the stroke in the Sagittal Plane with the right hip flexing, thoracic spine flexing, and right shoulder flexing.
  • The “load” of the stroke in the Frontal Plane with the left hip adducting, thoracic spine right laterally flexing, and right shoulder abducting.
  • The “load” of the stroke in the Transverse Plane with the left hip internally rotating, thoracic spine left rotating, and right shoulder horizontally adducting.
  • The “explode” of the stroke in all three planes of motion are the opposite of the loaded motions.

The above biomechanical breakdown is important because if the loaded motions are not available at the hips, thoracic spine, and shoulder, then the elbow will break down. Most movement professionals view this as overuse of the elbow, but the elbow really should be going along for the ride and not initiating it. Therefore, the injury is due to an underuse of the hips, thoracic spine, and shoulders.

Three of the biggest causes to this symptom can be found in the hips, thoracic spine, and shoulders (perhaps even in order of importance / focus).

RELATED: Turn to Applied Functional Science to Treat Golfer’s Elbow


Applied Functional Science and Tennis Elbow: A Holistic Approach

Applied Functional Science (AFS) considers human movement in all three planes. It emphasizes that all our movements are really a Chain Reaction®, and that pain in one body part is often caused by dysfunction in other parts of the body. When our experts assess lateral epicondylitis, they see one of these Chain Reactions—starting in the hips, mid-back, and shoulders.

Furthermore, AFS notes that to understand the differences between causes, compensations, and symptoms, you must also understand our Transformational Zones, where movements change direction, and the load becomes the explode. When you see the body as integrated, rather than isolated, you can see how the parts play into the whole.

RELATED: Probable Suspects: Tennis Elbow

Use 3DMAPS® and Applied Functional Science to Treat and Prevent Tennis Elbow

To treat tennis elbow, it is important to biomechanically understand the integration of the body. This understanding is paramount to 3DMAPS® (3D Movement Analysis & Performance System), which uses six full-body Chain Reaction movements to assess the mobility (flexibility) of the body’s vital joints in all three planes of motion.

Additionally, 3DMAPS uses another six Chain Reaction movements to assess the stability (strength) of the body’s vital joints in all three planes of motion. No other assessment in the industry accomplishes this nor empowers the practitioner with the ability to assess and progress based on true functional biomechanics.

In our related Vlog, Dr. Gary Gray talks and moves you through the following understandings and applications:

  • Identification of 3DMAPS’s three Chain Reaction movements that directly correlate with tennis elbow
  • Progressing the above using 3DMAPS’s Performance System specific to a unilateral hand swing
  • Synthesizing the progressions to effectively treat (and prevent) tennis elbow.

Essentially, the best way to treat and prevent tennis elbow is to use the following movements in a manner that focuses on lunging deeper and faster to recruit the friends (hips, thoracic spine, and shoulders) of the elbow:

  • Left Foot, Posterior, Lunge with Right Hand, Posterior at Ankle, Swing
  • Right Foot, Left Lateral, Lunge with Right Hand, Right Lateral at Knee, Swing
  • Right Foot, Left Rotational, Lunge with Right Hand, Left Rotational at Shoulder, Swing.

Movement can, and should, help with movement-related issues. However, it is the right movement that helps. While rest, medication, therapy, a brace, and other modalities may assist, the right movement, which is functionally, biomechanically related to the task, is necessary in recovery and prevention, as well as enhanced performance.

When You Understand the Body, You Transform Your Approach

If you’re ready to address the root cause of an injury, rather than just treating a symptom, you’re in the right place. We’ve been empowering passionate movement professionals for 40 years and are ready to speak with you about the taking the next step in your educational journey.

For more information about Gray Institute, Applied Functional Science, or 3DMAPS or Chain Reaction, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us. We’re happy to speak with you about your goals and how Gray Institute can help. Contact our team today to get started!