Q: I'm worried that I might be developing tennis elbow. Are there any strings that will help prevent tennis elbow or at least alleviate my symptoms?
A: The short answer is: yes, there are absolutely some strings—and racquets too, for that matter—out there that can help you.
Before I go into that, I think that it's important to understand that tennis elbow is a medical condition that really requires the care of a medical professional. To further complicate matters, arm pain or discomfort isn't always caused by tennis elbow so I'd encourage anyone suffering from any sort of arm discomfort to consult with a doctor or sports specialist. He or she can help figure out what may truly be wrong and work with you to come up with a treatment plan that will help get you back to normal.
With that disclaimer out of the way, let's take a look at what can be done to improve your situation. Since I'm not a doctor (shocking, I know), I'll address the tennis side of things (strings, racquets, and technique) and leave the medical side of things (icing, anti-inflammatory drugs, therapy, etc.) to the medical folks.
From an equipment standpoint, there are several things you can do to help ease your symptoms. The easiest—and least expensive—option is to switch tennis strings. Some strings are stiffer and transmit more shock to your arm, while others are softer and transmit much less shock to your arm. For tennis elbow sufferers, softer is better and when it comes to softness, is still the king. Even though natural gut is more expensive, in my opinion, it's worth the price to make your arm feel better. If natural gut strings are just out of your budget, don't fret, there are other options. Synthetic strings have come a long way in recent years and many of the high-end multifilament synthetic strings are very soft and forgiving. You can always also create a custom blend using half a set of natural gut with half a set of high-end multifilament synthetic to keep your costs down while still enjoying the benefits of natural gut.
A slightly more expensive option is to consider switching tennis racquets. Heavier, more flexible racquets are often ideal for tennis elbow sufferers as they usually transmit much less shock up the arm to the elbow. The good news is that heavier racquets are often relatively flexible, so the search for new racquet candidates should be pretty straightforward. Of course, making even a relatively small equipment change is usually a pretty big deal, so it's tough for any player to really take the plunge and switch from a lightweight, stiff racquet to a much heavier, flexible frame.
You might also want to consider checking out some of Pro Kennex's racquet offerings from their lines. Both of these racquet lines feature technology that is specifically designed to absorb shock and reduce stress on the arm—and they're very nice racquets in their own right as well!
You can also try reducing your stringing tension some. Lower tensions are usually better for tennis elbow, but there is a limit to how low you should go. I'd recommend that you work with your stringer to slowly reduce your tension over time until you find a sweet spot that will still allow you to have some control as well. Right now the trend is towards lower tensions anyway, so you're certainly not alone. Pros and amateurs alike seem to be gravitating towards much lower tensions than they might have as recently as a few years ago.
In terms of more long-term solutions to actually prevent tennis elbow, the best thing you can do is invest in some lessons from an experienced tennis pro. Tennis elbow is usually caused—at least in part—because of poor stroke production that exerts excess stress on your arm with every hit. Over time, the repetition of this movement adds up, resulting in the pain and sensitivity you experience as tennis elbow. A competent, experienced tennis pro can help you develop proper technique that will reduce stress on your arm over time. You'll be improving your game while you improve your technique, so it's a win-win situation, and it's definitely worth the money. Aside from medical intervention, this may be the best long-term option for preventing or solving issues related to tennis elbow. Best of luck with your tennis elbow!
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