October 27th, 2003

Tennis Elbow
By James Castwell


Back about forty years ago I had it, tennis elbow. Had never played tennis in my life. But I had worked in a manufacturing plant for many years and graduated to a job which gave it to me. I used to grab a large handful of slippery, oily steel rods and load them into a hopper. The more I could grab in each handful the better. I built up a right forearm that looked like Popeye. During this era I did not lose any arm-wrestling contests.

After a while though I noticed some ache in the big muscle on top of my arm. I could trace the pain down over my wrist and to my thumb. The company gave me some heat type treatments which did nothing, then they gave me some pain pills.

I went to my own doctor when the pain got to the point that I could hardly do my job with out them. The usual cortisone shots were suggested and I agreed as by this time I could not pick up a cup of coffee. I would send the signal to my arm and nothing would happen, simply nothing. The thumb was no longer 'opposable.'

Now for those of you have never had a shot or two of good old cortisone let me lay out the scene for you. You sit on a chair by a table. Now put your arm on the table. A doctor sits on your shoulder and a nurse sits on your arm. Your elbow is trapped between them. However the whole thing is within your vision, not necessarily a good thing. A big syringe with a really long needle appears from nowhere and is driven into the hard stuff your elbow joint is made of. At least it was in my case.

"Don't worry Jim," he said. "I put some pain killer in with this stuff, it wont' hurt much!" What a crock! And the second shot was just as bad. Now that should have been the end of it, at least I hoped it would be. Get the shot, all would be fixed. Then I heard, "You never know about this stuff, but sometimes it gets the job done." Another crock. It didn't.

Oh, for a few hours or so it was fine then the pain killer wore off. No change. None at all. A week later I was back and asked what the real fix would be. He explained that the muscle in my right arm had grown from heavy use and so had the cartilage, so much in fact that the holes and tunnels and groves were too small for them now. The fix was to open the elbow up and scrape down the cartilage. Neat! I had no real choice. "Let's do it," I said.

A week or so later and I had a brand new cast on my right arm and thirteen stitches (he told me) concealed beneath it. Had it not become infected things probably would have gone better but, stuff like that happens. It only took longer to heal. Remember guys, I was fly fishing during these years too. And spring was coming, the opening of trout season was very close, and I wanted to go. I would go in fact, but first I consulted with my surgeon.

"Doctor, will it kill me?" He said no, but it would not be a good thing for me to cast with that thing on my arm. "Will it kill me," again I asked. Again, "No," was his answer.

Later that day, "Great news Honey," I told my wife. The doctor said it sure wouldn't kill me to go fishing with the cast on my arm." As I could bend my wrist (some), short casts were the order of the day. At least while I had the cast on.

Now, here is where it got interesting for all parties, them and me. I was on some kind of compensation, the trout season was open, my cast was eventually taken off and my arm didn't hurt. What was a guy to do? What ever should I do? Go right back to work just as soon as possible? Right, just as soon as I had my fill of 'rehabilitation.' I 'rehabilitated.' For quite a while.

General Motors invited me back to work but, I just didn't feel I was quite ready, but informed them that, "it would be soon, very soon." I really needed some work on my presentation, left-hand curve cast, recoil cast, slack-line cast and a few others. "Soon, very soon," I said.

It took a few months of fly-casting for a full recovery, in fact, all that spring, and yet now, forty years later, the elbow still seems to be just fine. Must be it was the right therapy.

I think I was lucky to have made the decision when I did and not play around for years trying to fix it the hard way. I still have the scars from the thirteen stitches; it's been my lucky number ever since.

I guess if your tennis elbow is not too bad yet, some type of treatment may fix it, or even help some. If it is bad I think there is only one way to do it right. At least that is how it was for me. ~ James Castwell


Till next week, remember . . .

Keepest Thynne Baakast Upeth

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