Tennis elbow and iaido

An article about probably the most common (and most annoying) injury when practicing iaido.
How it is caused and how it can be treated…

Of course I can’t say this with certainty but I guess that the tennis elbow is (one of) the most occurring injury in training iaido. I, for one, had to deal with for three times and every time more severe then the previous one. Perhaps it had to do with the fact that I’m left handed and my right arm wasn’t used to this kind of training.

The first tennis elbow occurred already after practicing iaido for less the 6 month. It took me, because of the lack of know how, another 6 month to recover before I starting my training again.
The second tennis elbow occurred when I practiced iaido for about three years. This one gave more instant pain and was felt deeper in my lower arm.
By googling I learned to massage it every evening which made it heal much quicker. After two month It was back to training. Also because I immediately started the massage when I felt the pain the first time.
The third time was also the worst time. The pain was deep and this time I was feeling a nasty sting at the joint where the designated muscle(s) are attached to.
Again I started to google about it and came across a specialist in treating tennis elbow.
His treatment was so helpful that I could continue my training in iaido on the same day. Now, the pain and the problem where not gone yet but stopping the practice was not an option I learned.

NOW WHAT IS A TENNIS ELBOW
A tennis elbow or epicondylitis lateralis humeri is pain sensation of both finger and pols extensions near the lateral epicondyle together with a de-generative change and fibrovasculaire hyperplasie (or angio-fibroblastische tendinosis).
The place of the actual tennis elbow (or tennis arm) is the same with everyone. Sometimes the pain is felt stronger at the center of the muscle but the actual problem is always at the attachment of the muscle to the joint.
Now the main cause for this tennis elbow is not a sudden strong wrong movement. It’s not the extend repetition of something that causes the problem.
The problem is that the attachment of the muscle to the joint has been to weak to withstand this kind of movement or repetition. So, it can be the more the low impact movements and repetitions as well as the abrupt movements that eventually create the problem because the arm isn’t used to those specific kind of movements.

Within iaido most likely the “problem” that causes the tennis elbow (at least with me) is the O-chiburi.
This action causes the arm to make an abrupt stop to a flowing motion that indicates to continue.

HOW TO TREAT A TENNIS ELBOW
What I learned from this treatment was basic and simple but foremost interesting and different from what I thought before.
The idea is that you have to make the muscle and its attachment to the joint stronger. This you do simple with some specific exercises. Next to this you need to get the blood to the area where the problem is. This means deep and painful massage of the designated muscle and joint.
And last you absolutely do not stop training iaido!

How do you massage?
An good way to massage is to find the most hurtful spot and put your thumb in it. Use some massage oil and start pressing you thumb in the muscle and move it towards your elbow. Do this about 20 times and then do it in the opposite direction. Important is to really put your pressure into it. It will hurt, it will get red and blue, but it works!!
Also massage the joint to which the muscle is attached. Here it is handy to put a towel over the joint and start making deep rubbing motions on the joint. Also here; find the hurtful spot and keep rubbing.

How to strengthen the muscle and attachment to the joint.
It is important to get a good balance between strength and flexibility. The flexibility has to be mostly in your wrist.
here are some examples of how to increase the flexibility of the arm and wrist:

rek01
rekkingen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To strengthen the muscle you can do several exercises.

01. Lifting while only using your wrist.
Take your boken and hold it straight in front of you with the kisaki pointed up. Now let the boken drop slowly away from you while keeping your arm straight in front of you. The movement comes only from your wrist. As soon as the boken is down you move it back up to starting position with using only your lower arm muscles.
Make about 4 sets of 10-12 repetitions.
Very important is to keep your arm fixed but relaxed during the whole exercise.
If the boken is to heavy to make 10 reps, try something else like a smaller stick or so.
Also just using a weight when available can be used.
One thing you absolutely most not do is to stop this exercise!!
You have to find the will to keep doing this for a long time. Even when your pain is gone and you feel the problem is gone you must keep performing this exercise to strengthen this arm.

02. Doing O-chiburi motion with weight.
When you did the above exercise for about 4 weeks your muscle and joint has gained enough strength to take the next exercise.

Take a your boken or a weight and make the O-chiburi motion until your arm gets tired. Do this motion slow and without stopping.
Again make about 4 sets of 10-12 repetitions.

03. Doing the last motion of O-chiburi
When everything goes well you can start adding a more abrupt motion to your exercise drill.

take your boken and only do the last motion of O-chiburi. That is: starting from the side of your head and making the “cutting” or “slicing” motion as if doing O-chiburi. Then bring your boken back up to the side of your head and so on.
Do this exercise as often as possible.

IMPORTANT:
To really benefit from this way of treating your arm you need to continue these exercises far longer then your arm is hurting. It is your arm that needs to get stronger. Even if you don’t have anymore pain.
Do these exercises every day. Especially in the beginning. When you feel that your arm has gained strength you can start doing it 3 – 4 times a week for example.

I hope this will help some of you as it did help me.
Thank you,  Alexander

3 thoughts on “Tennis elbow and iaido

  1. An interesting read. I’ve been training in Iaido about 18 months and am having trouble with my elbows. The left after lots of cutting, and the right after O’Chiburi. O’Chibiuri feels very like my Gedan Barai block from GoJu Ryu Karate and trying to limit the ‘kime’ at the end of the downwards arc is very hard for me. I enjoyed reading all of your articles, and was very impressed by the Saya making. Good work.

    In Budo,
    Mark

    • Dear Mark,
      Thank you for your comment. Much appreciated.
      Sorry to hear that you have elbow injuries on both arms. It took me back to when I was practising Pentjak Silat and, just as you described, started to have pain in my elbow from blocking.
      Perhaps the article can help you a bit by following the exercises but see if you can find a physiotherapist who is specialized in tennis elbow if the pain continues.
      I wish you all the best and regards,
      Alexander

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