acupressure for tennis elbow

Acupuncture: A Research-Backed Approach for Effective Relief from Elbow Pain

Elbow pain – that nagging discomfort that can turn the simple act of reaching for a cup of coffee into an arduous task. But what’s the story behind this annoyance? Let’s first delve into the differences between two commonly confused conditions: tennis elbow and golf elbow.

tl;drtl;dr Too long; didn't read. A quick summary for those pressed for time.

  • Tennis elbow affects outer tendons, while golf elbow affects inner tendons.
  • Even office workers aren’t spared from elbow pain! Constant typing and mouse use can contribute to the strain on your tendons.
  • Research shows acupuncture can be a game-changer for elbow pain, even outperforming drugs in a 2020 systematic review and meta-analysis.
  • Acupuncture targets the root cause of pain, promoting overall well-being.
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The Differences Between Tennis Elbow and Golf Elbow

tennis backhand

Tennis elbow and golf elbow are colloquial terms used to describe two different types of elbow tendinopathy that are both caused by repetitive strain and overuse of the forearm muscles, but they affect different tendons and parts of the elbow.

Tennis elbow, known medically as lateral epicondylitis, refers to pain and inflammation of the tendons attached to the lateral epicondyle, which is the outer part of the elbow. This condition is named “tennis elbow” because it’s a common injury among tennis players. It is caused by repetitive wrist extension against resistance, such as when a tennis player performs a backhand stroke, which can put a lot of stress on the tendons that attach to the lateral epicondyle.

Golf elbow, on the other hand, is medically known as medial epicondylitis and affects the tendons connected to the medial epicondyle on the inner part of the elbow. This condition is less common than tennis elbow and is named “golf elbow” as it frequently occurs among golfers. The name comes from the strain placed on the arm when gripping a golf club, particularly during the swing, which can lead to overuse and stress of the tendons that attach to the medial epicondyle.

Common Causes of Elbow Pain

It’s not just sports aficionados who are prone to these irritating conditions, however. Any repetitive arm or wrist action can be culpable. From painting a masterpiece on your canvas to hammering away during a DIY project, many different activities can provoke elbow pain. Even office workers aren’t spared, as constant typing and mouse use can also contribute to the stress on your forearm tendons. And let’s not forget age-related wear and tear, which can make elbows more susceptible to pain.

The Impact of Elbow Pain on Daily Life

Elbow pain has a sneaky way of interfering with the most mundane tasks. Suddenly, shaking hands, lifting groceries, or even dressing becomes a challenge. The persistence of this pain can lead to a reluctance to engage in activities, potentially causing muscle weakness and stiffness over time. It’s clear that elbow pain doesn’t just impede our sports heroes; it can throw a wrench in the gears of daily life for anyone.

Acupuncture as a Treatment for Elbow Pain

TCM Explains How Acupuncture Works to Alleviate Pain


Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) believes that the human body is a complex network of energy pathways known as meridians. The concept of Qi, roughly translated as “vital energy” or “life force,” is central to this framework. According to TCM theory, Qi circulates through these meridians and is responsible for maintaining overall health. Pain and illness are thought to result from disruptions or imbalances in the flow of Qi.

Acupuncture, one of the principal treatments in TCM, involves the insertion of thin needles into specific points along these meridians, known as acupuncture points or acupoints. The practice is based on the belief that these points are strategic conductors of Qi. By stimulating these points, acupuncture is said to normalize the flow of Qi, thereby improving the energy balance, reducing blockages, and allowing the body to heal itself. The pain-relieving effects of acupuncture are explained within the TCM framework as a consequence of restoring the proper flow of Qi.

Western Medicine Explains How Acupuncture Works to Alleviate Pain


Western practitioners view the acupuncture points as places to stimulate nerves, muscles, and connective tissue. This stimulation boosts your body’s natural painkillers and increases blood flow. Think of it as a natural tune-up for your body’s self-healing mechanisms.

Whether you lean towards the Eastern or Western explanation, the goal is the same: relief from pain. And while the thought of needles might make some squeamish, many patients report minimal discomfort during the procedure. The needles are hair-thin, after all, designed to be felt less and heal more.

Acupuncture does not just address the symptoms; it is seen as a holistic approach. That means it’s not just about targeting the elbow pain directly but also about addressing the body’s overall well-being, which could indirectly improve the condition causing the elbow pain and potentially also help with other conditions you may have at the same time.

Research Findings on Acupuncture’s Effectiveness for Elbow Pain

When it comes to elbow pain, many sufferers are eager to find relief that extends beyond the medicine cabinet. As we pivot our focus to scientific scrutiny, recent studies and clinical trials have started to shed light on acupuncture’s efficacy. But what does the research actually say?

Recent Studies Supporting Acupuncture for Elbow Pain Relief

acupuncture research

Recent research has provided compelling evidence in favor of acupuncture for managing elbow pain. For instance, a 2020 study published in the European Journal of Pain found that participants with tennis elbow experienced significant pain reduction after undergoing acupuncture treatments. Acupuncture was also found to be useful in improving arm function associated with tennis elbow.

Moreover, a 2020 systematic review and meta-analysis that looked at multiple studies concluded that acupuncture might outperform drugs in pain reduction. While available studies vary in methodology and scale, the convergence of their findings provides a persuasive argument for acupuncture’s role in pain management.


The struggle with elbow pain can be a significant hindrance to everyday life. The body of research we’ve examined points to a promising potential for acupuncture to alleviate elbow pain and improve limb functionality, offering a beacon of hope for those seeking an alternative to pharmaceuticals. As a holistic practice, acupuncture goes beyond merely addressing localized symptoms; it aims to enhance overall health, potentially correcting underlying imbalances that contribute to elbow pain.

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