Tennis (Badminton) Elbow

If you’re friends with me on facebook, then you’ll know I’ve been suffering from tennis elbow for the past few months.

What is tennis elbow? Well it’s where the tendon, and muscles, in the elbow area are overused, damaged, and cause pain. Tennis elbow has most of the pain on the outside of the elbow, while golfers elbow has the pain on the inner side of your elbow.

The cause is clear, overuse, which isn’t a surprise to anyone as I was regularly playing 20+ hours a week. Ultimately the solution is clear: take a month break. But I’m Badminton Becky so that’s not an option for me.

So what to do? Well, this is a really common problem in badminton, and one every serious player has suffered from at some point. So everyone has their own solutions and remedies and I’ve been subject to a few:

I’ve had patches of Chinese medicine wound round my elbow, had someone blow a hair dryer across my elbow while rubbing my skin, ice packs, cortisone cream, tiger balm, some Taiwan oil medicine that smells like wintergreen that makes my skin feel all hot and tingly (this has been the best working solution for me so far) and something that was described to me as coming “from an animal like a deer that sprays this on the female before having sex.” I’ve also been told to try acupuncture, yet I haven’t willingly sought it out yet. Perhaps I will.

I don’t know what this magical wintergreen smelling stuff does, but it actually works and makes my elbow feel better quickly.

The one thing I’m not willing is a cortisone shot. I read up on it, and the jury is still out on the overall benefits of it and I just don’t want something shot directly into my elbow. Yikes.

I also read up on tennis elbow (and watched dozens of youtube videos) so I understand it more now, and know how to prevent it by stretching, proper warm-up and doing some exercises to build the muscles around it.

Tennis elbow is called a “self-limiting” condition which means it will get well on it’s own. Every “treatment” for tennis elbow is a treatment for the pain. Even surgery, in which they remove the damaged part of the tendon, is more for pain relief than anything else.

So, I figure if I can endure the pain, then I’m fine, right? I know, some of you are groaning, but honestly I’ve been living with this for weeks now and my solution is actually working so clearly I’m a fucking genius.

You see, after I asked for ideas on facebook, and everyone bombarded me with “rest, rest, rest,” I finally gave into peer pressure and rested. Three full days. During that time, it didn’t feel any better.

On the fourth day I played. Lo and behold it actually stopped hurting while playing. I was careful, I stopped playing after 3 hours, but it actually hurt less while playing then it did when I took a break. Maybe because it was warmed-up, stretched and moving?

That was enough to convince me. I don’t have to take a break. But I do need to be careful. My new rule is no more than 3 hours of playing in one day, two if I can manage it. It’s not easy to stick to, after 3 hours I need to change my shoes right away, instead of just sitting down. If I sit down, someone inevitable asks me to play, and I can’t say no. If I change my shoes, then I can’t.

I’m not sure if elbow braces ultimately help or not, but the pain has been less since I started regularly wearing one while playing. I’m also a total dunce and lost 2 of them so far. I lost one literally 20 minutes after I bought it. I need to be more careful cause good ones aren’t cheap!

Sometimes it’s also not possible. On Tuesday’s I not only have class with my coach for 1.5-2 hours but I have afternoon training with two new coaches. This Tuesday, after training one of the coaches invited me to play games with his group. His group just so happened to be playing at the same place, the same time, as my old group. I figured even though I was tired and in pain, I couldn’t refuse. It was fate right?!

So I went and played with both groups.

At the end of that day, 6.5 hours total of playing and training starting at 10am and finishing at 10pm, I could barely use my chopsticks because my arm was so weak. Luckily I had noodle soup and a spoon was more appropriate. But my badminton friends helped me, got some medicine and a little massage and the next day it hurt very little.

In a weird way, tennis elbow has actually helped me improve my form. If I hit it a certain way and it sends that zing of pain down my arm, I know I just used my arm wrong. If I feel this pain in training, while hitting a certain shot, I can correct it immediately with more practice shots.

Silver lining!

I turned a corner a few weeks ago and it is definitely on it’s way to recovery. It hurts, but less so, and I think in another month or so, it will have healed itself, and won’t bother me anymore. I’ll keep to my new routine, stretching it well, doing some exercises and playing wearing a brace, and I think it will be okay. If not, well, guess I could just amputate the whole thing and start training with my other arm!




  1. Ronson

    Rest is probably one of the worst things you can do for an injury unless you have some type of tear or a broken bone. Old studies that said rest and ice were good are being proven wrong. A lot of new advice is to keep it moving and heat the affected area. Your body uses blood to heal/cleanse areas of distress, and for blood to get to the problem areas, you need heat/movement.

    Some links on the topic (and with anything online, take it with a grain of salt 🙂 )

    1. Becky (Post author)

      Cool, thanks! And yeah I also figured that rest wasn’t necessary when none of my badminton friends told me to rest, but all my other friends who don’t play did. 😉


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