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Tennis Elbow May Not Be Tendinitis

The path to pain relief may be surprising

As for me, after zeroing in on the tendon fibers, Gary Chimes finds nothing significantly abnormal — just the low-grade wear and tear that's impossible to avoid in an active guy on the cusp of 60.

"It's not that there's something structurally wrong," Chimes tells me. "It's that you're asking a body part to do more than it was designed to do." To remedy this, he gives me two prescriptions.

"First," he recommends, "see a tennis pro about improving your technique, particularly your serve and one-handed backhand." Powering these shots with the arm alone concentrates a huge amount of stress on the elbow.  

Second, visit a physical therapist for rehab exercises. "A well-designed program of physical therapy will help you learn to use your whole body more effectively," he says. "That way, you won't always be asking little muscles to do the big muscles' job, putting more pressure on tendons."

Two months later, I can't believe my improvement. A local pro has taught me how to hit a two-handed backhand, effectively eliminating the major source of on-court elbow twinges. At the rehab center, my physical therapist has shown me a series of exercises that has not only further aided my elbow's recovery but provides significant relief for my other chronic tendinosis problem: swimmer's shoulder, the bane of diehard swimmers like me.

So while it's comforting to know that cutting-edge treatments exist for my tendinosis, I'm happy that I don't need them quite yet — or maybe ever.

Pennsylvania freelancer Jim Thornton writes for Men's Health, Field & Stream, and Swimmer, among other magazines.

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