I'm a 40 year old, high purple belt. I have only been training for 4 months, but I take it very seriously, and attend class three times a week. I have developed a bad case of Tennis Elbow, a severe pain on the outside of the elbow, high on the forearm. The only way to treat Tennis Elbow is to rest it for 6-8 weeks but there is no way I can stop training for that long.
When doing punching drills, (with no targets) or doing forms, my passion gets the best of me and I give it all I have, in terms of intensity. My theory is that I'm over extending my arms while punching hard or fast. When I throw a punch, I extend until my arm stops. In other words, I lock my arm at the end of the punch. When I'm punching hard, I think that the momentum is hyper extending my elbow just a bit. If I try to leave a slight bend in my arm and not extend all the way, I punch slower and with less power.
Have you heard or seen this before? Am I punching incorrectly? Should I leave a slight bend in my arm when throwing a punch?
When you punch or kick, the limb should extend but does not lock out. Watch people who fight for a living, such as boxers or MMA fighters, they do not lock out their elbows when punching. Not all punches make contact with the intended target. Hitting the wrong target, one that does not give way, may injury a straight arm. A miss, where arm the locks out as fist suddenly stops forward motion, also may injury the elbow.
Have you ever been walking down a city street, stepping off curbs as you look at the sights, and stepped off a curb that was just a little higher than normal? Your stepping leg extends a little more and the knee locks just as the foot hits the ground with a thud that sends shock waves throughout your body and even jolts the brain a little. When the elbow or knee locks out, there is no way for the body to absorb the shock of a strike. Instead of the ligaments, muscles, etc. absorbing the shock gradually, the joints get slammed together and the shock reverberates throughout the entire body.
When you fully extend the arm or leg in an attack, it is easy for the knee or elbow to move a little more than it may safely handle and it may hyperextend, causing an immediate major injury or cumulative minor injuries that will manifest later as a major injury.
When a punch at the end of a fully extended arm comes to a sharp stop, it is because it cannot go any further, and, as it stops, it pulls the elbow and shoulder joints apart. When a punch is focused to stop before full extension, everything comes to a smooth stop. When a punch is focused, it may be stopped short of the surface, on the surface, or beyond the surface. Either way, if the punch does make contact with the target, the arm and body are able to absorb the reactive force. If the arm is fully extended, it cannot be adjusted to focus the stopping point and, if it makes hard contact, the elbow may be injured.
As you train, you train your body to make movements to accomplish your purpose. If you lock your punches when you train, your body makes adjustments to try to accommodate for the movement. If you try to punch hard with a locked out elbow, the body will may changes to its movements in an effort to protect itself, usually by limiting the force it applies to the punch. When you change the way you punch and do not lock the elbow, the body keeps using the movements you have trained it to do in the past, and the punch feels awkward and less powerful, which may be true. Once you have trained for a period while punching correctly, the body will adjust itself to the new movements and the punches will be just as, if not more, powerful than before, and you will not be stressing your joints.
In a punch, you arm is used to accelerate the fist to a high speed so it will strike harder. A locked elbow makes your arm similar to a straight stick. Attach two leather cords to the end of a long stick and try to whip the stick out fast enough to make the cords snap, which means they are breaking the sound barrier, about 700 mph. It’s impossible to move the stiff stick that fast. Now attach the cords to the end of a piece of rope the same length as the stick, AKA a whip, and try to make the cords snap. It is easy to make them snap since the limp rope allows the tip to move much faster than the grip end. When punching, a relaxed arm that stays limp until impact will increase the speed of the fist much more than a tensed arm.
When you are younger, you can do things the wrong way and the body can adapt and make accommodations for using poor technique. As you age, the body cannot absorb as much punishment and it heals more slowly. Therefore, as you age, your must strive for perfect technique. Once you have achieved it, the skill never goes away, such as the skill bicycle riding never goes away. As you age, you find that, although your reflexes are not a quick as the used to be, your technique is still perfect and it allows you to beat younger opponents who are relying upon their youth to overcome their imperfections.
I once had a “tennis elbow” injury I received during police baton training that would not heal. A doctor prescribed Voltaren (diclofenac) and the injury healed in a few days.