Friday, May 14, 2010

No more tennis elbow

Since a windsurfing trip to Bonaire in March 2009, I have been dealing with tennis elbow pain (probably should call it "windsurfer elbow"). I had never had it before, but strong wind on the first day of surfing after a 6 month break proved to be too much. The pain went down after a few weeks, but has never completely left me for more than 14 months.

Judging by the interest this topic created recently on the iWindsurf forum, tennis elbow seems to affect quite a few windsurfers (even young Graham had it recently). Based on suggestions in the forum, I followed Roland Lucas' grip training protocol, and noticed an improvement after a few days. Still, some minor pain remained, and I started to be concerned about what would happen during my upcoming trips to Maui and the Gorge. So I followed up on a pointer in Ronald videos and ordered a Thera-Band Flexbar ($10.15 from Amazon).

Now to the amazing part of my story. After following the instructions and doing 3 sets of 15 exercises for just one day, the pain was gone! I could finally take a carton of orange juice out of the fridge again without feeling pain in my elbow. This really amazed me - I had hoped for a fast improvement, but this beat all my expectations. When I did the exercises yesterday, there was quite a bit of pain; today, the same exercise is a lot less painful. Did I say that I find it completely amazing?

If you have tennis elbow problems, you should definitely get a Flexbar and do the exercises. You may not see a big improvement after a day, but you will probably see an improvement after a few weeks. In a controlled clinical study, the group that used the Flexbar showed a huge improvement after about 7 weeks, while the control group that only received physical therapy showed only a small improvement. The researchers actually cut the study short because the results were so dramatic, and it seemed unethical to withhold the Flexbar exercises from the control group.

I did a bit more research into this, since this is just a single clinical study. It turns out that similar "eccentric" exercises also have shown to be the most effective treatment for several other tendon-related problems, for example for Archilles tendinitis. This is a relative recent development, and the reason why eccentric (lengthening) exercises work so well is not yet understood. Many abstracts that I read have called for additional studies, for example to see how exactly exercises should be performed for maximum effectiveness. However, it seems that the "Tyler Twist" protocol for the Flexbar is very effective to cure the tennis elbow.

This may read like an advertisement, but I have no connection whatsoever to Thera-Band or anyone selling the Flexbars. I am just very happy that my elbow pains are gone


Now to a different topic: windsurfing last weekend. The wind forecast had looked great, with mid- to upper twenties predicted for the entire Saturday. We took off early Friday afternoon, bought a (used) small waveboard for Nina, and stayed on Cape Cod for the weekend. Based on Jim Ballantyne's suggestion, we sailed Old Silver Beach on Friday evening. Like Jim said, this is a great place for some easy waves and nice swell in SW winds. For us, it was a bit much, since our wave experience is non-existent to minimal. Interesting evening, though - something I'll remember a while. The beach is rather beautiful:

I also liked the picture my lovely wife took of me:

On Saturday, the weather started lousy, and the wind never came. We did some light wind playing - here's Nina doing step 1 of Remko de Weerd's 4 steps to the spin look:

On Sunday, we finally got wind. Chris was out doing loops, E-sliders, and more on a 4.5. But while we were watching, the wind started turning from WSW to WNW, getting gustier and going down. We decided to try West Falmouth Harbor, based on the iWindsurf site description. Indeed, the water was flat, and the place is beautiful - but the wind was extremely gusty and shifty. Not the place to be in WNW or NW (W is supposed to work better). I spent a lot of time uphauling, since there was not enough wind to even flow the rig. I found that a bit challenging; with the 5/4 wetsuit and the few pounds I added recently, the Skate 110 like to go completely under water as soon as I pull out the sail:

Here's a picture from below the water line (you can see the board as a faint white line in the background):

Well, uphauling a sinker is a useful skill to have, so this was good practice. Now I just need to loose a few pounds, and the water needs to get warmer so I can sail without a wet suit...


  1. Wow. Your scenario sounds very familiar.
    After being obsessed with windsurfing for 6 years, i got away from windsurfing for 20 years. Then I decided to take a trip to Bonaire in April 2013 and had a riot. But i came hope with tennis elbow in my left arm. Didn't really bother me while i was windsurfing though. But it has been progressively getting worse for the last few months. Especially after windsurfing sessions (even short ones).
    I bought the red Thera band bar after reading this. The Tyler twists are fairly hard to do so I and am wondering how much pain you experienced when you first started doing them.
    Should I wait till the tennis elbow has really subsided a lot?
    Or should i ignore the pain?
    Just wanted to see what you experienced.
    Thanks a lot.

  2. Erik, there was some pain, but not a lot. A bit is fine, I think, but a lot could be a sign of problems. Your tendonitis may be more severe than mine was - weakness is one sign, and the exercises with the red bar are pretty easy. Ideally, you should talk to a physical therapist or MD who is familiar with the Thera band about this.

    I have heard from other windsurfers with tendonitis that it actually went away after good windsurfing sessions. I have also noticed that my tendonitis likes to flare up again after a bad session, for example when I was overpowered and used my arms a lot. A good session, where I am 100% in the harness and perfectly powered, does the opposite - my elbows feel better afterwards than before. So I think that technique is a big issue. For us slightly older windsurfers, bent knees, correct sail sizes, and keeping all weight in the harness is really important. If in doubt, I'll go for the smaller sail and more comfortable board.

    In addition to the Thera band, other strengthening hand and arm exercises are also useful or even necessary. Keep the same idea in mind: lengthening the muscle very slowly under load. On machines, for example, I use a slower, more controlled push up, and an even slower lowering of the weight. Weights I use are usually so that 12 reps are comfortable, I often do 16 or more. We're not going for explosive strength or maximum muscle gain anymore, after all, and this feels a lot better to old tendons.