Last week I was lifting something heavy and awkward and felt a tweak just below my right elbow. Over the next few hours, I experienced pain and weakness on lifting and gripping activities involving my right hand as well as tenderness over the muscle which runs from just above the outer elbow to the back of the hand, the extensor carpi radialis longus.
I diagnosed myself with an acute muscle strain. From clinical experience, I know that if I did effectively manage the muscle strain, it could progress to a tendinopathy aka 'tennis elbow', which would likely take longer to heal.
So what to do?
I needed to rest and offload the area for a few days to let the muscle start to heal. To effectively offload, I had to avoid excessive gripping and lifting for the most part, especially if these activities were painful. Easier said than done, and I now have even greater sympathy for my clients who find this very difficult given how much we use our hands to grip and lift.
To help further offload the muscle, I asked a colleague to apply two strips of dynamic sports tape, which I find very helpful when treating clients in the early stages of a muscle injury. The tape also helped me avoid aggravating the injury by doing silly things with my elbow, wrist, and hand.
The next day I started doing gentle isometric gripping exercises, pain-free for 30-60 seconds, repeating 2-3 times once a day. Isometric exercises are recommended based on current research, which advocates for this type of exercise to help ease pain and start to restore the load tolerance of the muscle and tendon unit.
Next up were a few sessions of gentle dry needling and manual therapy treatment. My colleague targeted the taut, tender portion of the extensor carpi radialis longus muscle, which gave a few 'twitches' in response, suggesting a myofascial trigger point may have developed within the muscle, common following an acute muscle injury.
Given that I was starting to feel much better, I progressed my exercises to involve more muscle loading in various functional positions by day five.
So a week later, I am typing up this article using the 2nd finger on my right hand repeatedly. This activity stresses my injured muscle and now causes me no pain. I can also fully grip and carry heavy objects, which would have been very painful a week ago.
If you suffer a similar injury, please don't wait to get it properly treated; the sooner treatment begins, the quicker it will heal without added complications.
In good health,