Houston Methodist. Leading Medicine

Elbow FAQ

Question:

I saw a physical therapist for tennis elbow about a month ago. She did various treatments to my neck. After the first three sessions, I noticed my elbow pain was gone and I could grip jars and groceries again. What I can't figure out is why messing with the neck makes the elbow feel better.

Answer:

In simple terms, the elbow's connected to the upper arm. The upper arm is connected to the shoulder, and the shoulder's connected to the neck. Everything works together for smooth, pain free motion.

In more complex terms, changes in the spinal cord may be the key. The spinal cord passes through the bones of the neck called the cervical spine. Any changes in the line up of the bones in the spine may cause the spinal cord to react. This is called central sensitization.

So the symptoms of tennis elbow may actually start in the neck rather than in the elbow itself. Treatment of the neck may change the way pain messages are sent and delivered by the spinal cord.

The therapist helps restore normal motion in the joints of the cervical spine. This type of treatment is called manual therapy. Some studies show patients with tennis elbow get better faster when manual therapy of the neck and/or elbow are used instead of just local treatment to the elbow.

Joshua A. Cleland, DPT, OCS, et al. Effectiveness of Manual Physical Therapy to the Cervical Spine in the Management of Lateral Epicondylalgia: A Retrospective Analysis. In Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy. November 2004. Vol. 34. No. 11. Pp. 713-724.

*Disclaimer:* The information contained herein is compiled from a variety of sources. It may not be complete or timely. It does not cover all diseases, physical conditions, ailments or treatments. The information should NOT be used in place of visit with your healthcare provider, nor should you disregard the advice of your health care provider because of any information you read in this topic.
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