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MAY 8, 2002
Tennis Elbow Braces
Tennis elbow is the bane of any tennis player's existence. In addition to an exercise program to strengthen the forearm muscles, you can use a variety of counterforce braces to protect against this all-too-common injury. From bands to a single bar to double bars, these braces compress the extensor muscle in the arm and help relieve tennis elbow pain by reducing shock transmission to the elbow.
Tennis elbow is really an inflammation of muscles of the forearm and the tendon that connects the muscles to the bones in the elbow. These muscles are used to bend the wrist backward and to turn the palm face up. When the muscles and tendon become inflamed from overuse, you feel pain on the outside of your elbow (the lateral epicondyle).
A tennis player most often aggravates the elbow by hitting the ball late on the backhand stroke. By hitting the ball on your back foot, you have to overcompensate by using mostly your arm, and hitting late causes your elbow to be bent. You end up straining the forearm muscles and tendon. You can also get tennis elbow by constantly turning your wrist to put more spin on the serve.
Counterforce braces compress the forearm muscles and reduce the shock transmitted to the elbow tendon. Clinical studies show that these braces act as a cinching belt. They short-circuit the force of the muscle contraction, particularly in the serve and backhand shots.
A counterforce brace contains a nonelastic, padded girdle that fits the contour of your forearm. It is held in place by two small buckles and Velcro straps. It functions as a constraint against muscle contraction and excessive movement of the tendons. This reduces the force and overload on the soft tissues of the elbow.
When a muscle contracts, it tends to expand. The counterforce brace controls the expansion and reduces the forces developed by the muscle. The brace, however, won't interfere with your game because it does not prevent motion. Tennis elbow is often seen when players try to step up in class and they find that the ball is coming at them harder. The elbow ends up absorbing most of this shock. Also, they may be a little late hitting the ball because of its speed.
One of the best counterforce braces is the Air Cast, an inflatable brace that not only can help control pain but prevent recurrences. The Air Cast band is also nonelastic, but contains an air bubble. This brace also has been shown to be effective at reducing muscle activity.
You can get a counterforce brace through your doctor or at sporting goods stores. Don't strap your brace too tightly. You should feel its pressure only when the forearm muscle contracts and expands.