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Is Heat or Cold Better For Tennis Elbow?

Tennis elbow occurs when the forearm muscles are overused and because of this the tendon can tear at the point where it joins the bone (lateral epicondyle) on the outside of your elbow. This will cause severe pain in the elbow, which may radiate to the upper or lower arm; swelling will also be present around the elbow.[1]

When there is an injury in the body the body defense system evokes an inflammatory response. Symptoms of inflammation are redness, pain, swelling, heat and restriction of movement. This is the first step in healing. So, even in tennis elbow the body is trying to heal the tear by evoking an inflammatory response. This is totally normal and no need to panic about it. After the inflammatory response the injured area needs a good blood supply to provide with adequate oxygen and nutrients to completely heal.

Is Heat or Cold Better For Tennis Elbow?

Is Heat or Cold better For Tennis Elbow?

So the question here “Is heat or cold better for tennis elbow?” and the answer is both are needed for different purposes.[2]

Why Ice Is Needed?

After the injury, applying ice for the first three days will relieve the pain and swelling in tennis elbow. Ice numbs the pain, causes blood vessels to constrict and this will reduce the swelling as well. Applying ice should be done for just 15 to 20 minutes every four to six hours only on the first three days after the symptoms occur. Also make sure not to apply ice directly on the skin, put a towel or a piece of cloth between the ice pack and the skin if not this can leads to irreversible skin and tissue damage. This is just a temporary solution, which will make you feel better when the pain and swelling decrease.[3]

Why Heat Is Needed?

After the first three days of tennis elbow, heat will provide more benefit that ice for the chronic tendinits pain. Heat dilates the blood vessels and increase the blood supply to the injured area which will promote healing. Heat also relaxes muscles, this will reduce the tightness and restricted movement in the elbow and that will eventually reduce the pain.

This is the way to apply heat, first apply a hot towel that has been kept under hot water for several seconds, and keep the towel on the tennis elbow for several minutes until the heat has run out of it. Repeat this method another three or four times. Do this for about five minutes and wipe off your elbow. Then prepare to apply heat pads, while you are warming the elbow with the towel turn on a heat pad to about 105 to 110ºF. The temperature must be exact because less than 105 will not give the required outcome and more than 110 will burn your skin. Apply the pads directly to your tennis elbow, try to cover up most parts of the elbow. Keep the arm still so that the maximum effects can be achieved. After about 15 to 30 minutes remove the pads, turn it off and then do some simple stretching exercises in your comfortable range of movement (don’t push harder) to increase blood flow. This will relax the muscle, reduce the inflammation and speed up the healing. The whole heating process should not exceed for more than 15 to 30 minutes per day if not irreversible skin and tissue damage can occur.[4]


Cold and heat both shows benefit in tennis elbow. Ice should be applied only on the first three days after the injury for about 15 to 20 minutes every four to six hours. Towel or a piece of cloth should be applied in-between the skin and ice pad if not irreversible tissue damage can occur. This reduces the pain and swelling. Heat should be applied after the first three days using a warm towel and heat pads for about 15 to 30 minutes per day. After applying heat do some simple stretch exercises to relax the muscle, improve blood supply and to accelerate healing.


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Team PainAssist
Team PainAssist
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Team PainAssist, Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:January 16, 2024

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