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Self-Care 101: Love Tennis? Hate Tennis Elbow?

When tennis courts are jumping, so are tennis players complaining of tennis elbow, a common and painful injury. And yet, it is very preventable. If you are interested in acing your next case of tennis elbow -- or golfer’s elbow, kayaker’s elbow, carpenter’s elbow, it’s all the same condition - listen up.

What is it? The condition is a case of tendonitis, an inflammation of the tendon that links your elbow to the muscles on the upper side of your forearm. Go to the family skeleton or anatomy book and see the tendon connection I’m talking about. If you don’t have a way of viewing what the human body looks like inside, please find one. Keep it handy. Your body is your business. Taking care of it begins with understanding how it works. Your ability to prevent and heal all kinds of sports injuries will be greatly enhanced for the rest of your life if you can visualize where certain muscles, bones and tendons are.

Why is it? Tennis elbow is usually an overuse injury. You are trying to do too much, too enthusiastically, without having enough strength or flexibility to handle the stress. Tennis elbow can also be caused by bad technique, especially a lousy backhand. If you punch at the ball, leading with your elbow, or if you grip your racket too tightly or allow your wrist to bend away from the ball instead of keeping it firm (but relaxed!), then you’re putting yourself at greater risk for tennis elbow.

What helps prevent it? To begin, make sure your ball-striking technique isn’t the cause. Take lessons, or talk to a tennis pro or qualified trainer. Be certain that your racket isn’t too heavy, or the grip too big or small. While you are improving your form, start a proper fitness-training program that adds strength and flexibility to your entire body, paying particular attention to the wrist and forearm area.

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Your homework. Here are a few simple but highly effective exercises to get the ball rolling. Two involve weights. If you don’t have dumbbells, start out with soup cans or the improvised equivalent. Begin with a weight that allows you to do about 12-15 repetitions fairly easily, and use your breath and focus to gradually add five more. When you can comfortably do 20 reps, you can add a slightly heavier weight and begin again. Do these exercises two or three times a week. If they create a little soreness in your muscles, that’s fine. If they cause pain in your joint, stop doing them and seek the medical advice of someone experienced and gifted who takes an integrated, holistic approach to keeping you well and pain-free.

For stronger wrists: Support your forearm on a table or your knee, your hand free to dangle. Hold the weight (not too tightly) in your hand, palm facing down. Gently raise and lower the weight through your entire range of motion. Then repeat the set with your palm facing up.

For stronger forearms: Extend your arm, with the weight in your hand, and gently rotate your forearm, palm up, palm down, over and over.

Extend and stretch your fingers. Bring the tips of your thumb and fingers together, palms facing each other but not touching. Now press the palms together and extend your fingers as much as you can, bringing energy into both hands, including your thumbs. You’ll probably feel some heat. Relax and enjoy. Now extend one arm and use one hand to gently bend and stretch the fingers of the other hand. Repeat, reverse, rejoice.

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Eat this up! Dish up smaller portions.

We eat what we see. It’s one of the 10 Commandments of Painless Portion Control. Deal with it by setting out just-right portions of food - not too small, not too big -- and putting the rest of the food away. Practice this religiously - small bowls of raisins, carrots, nuts replacing big bags of chips, cookies, candies. Appropriate servings of meats, vegetables, grains on a small dinner plate, and over time, without buying a single diet book, you will lose weight.

ENERGY EXPRESS-O! WHY SO MUCH CANCER?

“Fat tissue is not just dormant. It’s active metabolic tissue. It secretes inflammatory cytokines, which seem to promote development of cancer.” -- Karen Collins, RN, nutrition adviser to the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR).

Marilynn Preston - fitness expert, personal trainer and speaker on healthy lifestyle issues - is the creator of Energy Express, the longest-running syndicated fitness column in the country.

She welcomes reader questions, which can be sent to MyEnergyExpress@aol.com. To find out more about Preston and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.