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How to Treat Tennis Elbow: Best Stretches and Exercises

By Born Tough on

Struggling to get rid of your tennis elbow? Looking for exercises to relieve elbow pain? Don’t worry, we got you covered!

Tennis elbow is a condition where tendons in your elbow are swollen due to repetitive motions of the arm and wrists. It can be extremely painful and can limit your daily activities.

Tennis elbow is usually treated at home with rest and over-the-counter medication. But certain exercises, when performed correctly, can also aid in the relief of pain and prevent the condition from happening again.

Here you will learn what tennis elbow is, how it occurs, and some of the best exercises and stretches to help treat tennis elbow without putting too much strain on your forearm.

1. What is Tennis Elbow?

What is Tennis Elbow?

Tennis elbow, also known as lateral epicondylitis, is inflammation of a tendon in the forearm. This tendon is called extensor carpi radialis brevis and is responsible for bending your wrist backward away from your palm.

Swelling of this tendon due to overuse puts an excessive strain on the muscles and causes pain in your forearm, wrists, and outer elbow.

What is Tennis Elbow?

1.1. Symptoms of Tennis Elbow

As described by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, the most common signs and symptoms of tennis elbow include:

  • Burning and pain on the outside of your elbow into your wrist and forearm
  • Weak grip strength
  • Difficulty in shaking hands, turning a knob, or holding a cup of coffee.
  • Pain while using tools or lifting objects

1.2. Causes

Tennis elbow is an injury that is mostly caused by repetitive arm motions, resulting in exceedingly small tears in the tendons connected to the outside of the elbow.

People can also get it from activities that require excessive wrist-twisting such as:

  • Swimming
  • Racquet sports such as tennis
  • Excessive use of hammers, computers, or screwdrivers.
  • Golfing
  • Lifting heavy objects

1.3. Treatment

Tennis elbow is usually treated by resting or applying ice on the inflamed area to reduce the pain. Other treatments include medication, physical therapy, steroids, and even surgeries in worst-case scenarios.

The first step in the treatment is to properly rest and allow the swelling to subsidize. Once the inflammation is reduced, you can perform various mild exercises and stretches to strengthen forearm muscles and avoid experiencing this again.

2. How Exercises Help Treat Tennis Elbows?

Finding workouts that improve tendon health while minimizing additional strain on the area is crucial.

The use of muscles in your elbow, combined with a strengthening exercise, will help to improve circulation throughout your arm. This will hasten the healing of the inflamed tendons in question.

Mild pain during exercise is to be expected, indicating that you need to adapt or modify your technique, such as limiting the range of motion or replacing resistance training with strength training. Moderate to severe pain, on the other hand, indicates that the exercise should be stopped.

3. Best Stretches and Exercises for Tennis Elbow

3.1. Stretches for Tennis Elbow

Stretching exercises are designed to stretch or lengthen the wrist extensor muscles in the forearm. These exercises are useful for improving arm and wrist mobility (range of motion).

Finger Stretch

Finger Stretch

Target: It targets muscles in the thumbs, fingers, and wrist flexors.

How to Perform?

  • Start by connecting your thumb and fingers by putting a rubber band around them.
  • Slowly open and close your fingers and thumbs all the way.
  • Repeat 25 times.
  • Perform this stretch at least three times a week for better results.

Ball Squeeze

Ball Squeeze

Target: It targets muscles in the fingers, wrists, and thumb flexors.

How to Perform?

  • Extend your affected arm and hold a rubber or tennis ball in your hand.
  • Squeeze and release the ball slowly about 20 times.

Wrist Flexor Stretch

Wrist Flexor Stretch

Target: It targets the external flexors in the forearm: flexor carpi ulnaris, flexor carpi radialis, and bicep brachii.

How to Perform?

  • With your palms facing upwards, extend your arm in front of you.
  • Point your hand towards the floor by bending your wrist. Bend your wrist farther with your other hand until you experience a mild stretch in your forearm.
  • Hold that position for 15-20 seconds.
  • Repeat two to four times.

Wrist Extensor Stretch

Wrist Extensor Stretch

Target: It targets extensor carpi ulnaris, radialis longus, radialis brevis and extensor digitorum communis.

How to Perform?

It is similar to the wrist flexor stretch, except that your palm is facing downwards.

  • With your palms facing downward, extend your arm in front of you.
  • Point your hand towards the floor by bending your wrist. Bend your wrist farther with your other hand until you experience a mild stretch in your forearm.
  • Hold that position for 15-20 seconds.
  • Repeat two to four times.

3.2. Exercises for Tennis Elbow

Towel Twist

Towel Twist

Target: It targets wrist flexors and extensors.

How to Perform?

  • Start by sitting in a chair. Hold a towel in both hands.
  • Keep your shoulders relaxed and twist the towel with both hands in opposite directions, just like wringing out water.
  • Repeat the twist 10 times in both directions, alternating between hands.

Fist Clench

Fist Clench

Target: It targets long flexor tendons in the thumb and fingers.

How to Perform?

  • Start by sitting at a table. Keep your affected forearm resting on the table.
  • Grasp a small ball or a rolled towel in both hands.
  • Hold the towel for 10 seconds in your hands by squeezing it. Then release the towel and repeat.
  • Switch to the other arm and do 10 reps on each side.

Wrist Curls (Palm up and down)

Wrist Curls (Palm up and down)

Target: It targets muscles in the forearm flexors.

How to Perform?

  • Start by placing your forearm on a table with your palm up, hanging your hand over the table's edge.
  • In your palm, hold a 0.5-1 kilogram weight, either a dumbbell, a can of food, or a full water bottle.
  • Then raise and lower the weight gradually while keeping your forearm on the table and your palm facing up.
  • Repeat this 8-12 times.
  • Then switch your arm and repeat the same steps.
  • Finally, repeat the same steps with your palms facing downwards while alternating between both arms.

Wrist Turn

Wrist Turn

You can perform wrist turns with or without weights.

How to Perform?

  • Start by bending your elbow at a right angle and extend your hand with your palm facing up.
  • Then turn your wrist gently until your palm is facing downwards.
  • Stay in that position for five seconds.
  • Repeat 2-4 times.

Wrist Extension

Wrist Extension

Target: It targets wrist extensors, a group of muscles responsible for building strength in the wrists. These are often subject to overuse during racquet sports.

How to Perform?

  • Sit in a chair with a dumbbell in your hand. Rest your elbow on your knees with your palm facing down.
  • Extend your wrist towards your body by keeping your palm down. (You can do the same movement without the weight if it becomes too challenging for you.)
  • Then return to the initial position.
  • Repeat at least 10 times on both sides.

Wrist Flexion

Wrist Flexion

Target: It targets wrist flexors, a group of muscles working opposite to the wrist extensors.

How to Perform?

  • Sit in a chair with a dumbbell in your hand. Rest your elbow on your knees with your palm facing upwards.
  • Flex your wrist towards your body while keeping your palm up.
  • Then return to the initial position.
  • Repeat at least 10 times on both sides.

Forearm Supination with a Dumbbell

Forearm Supination with a Dumbbell

Target: It targets the supinator muscle, a large forearm muscle that attaches to the elbow and is responsible for turning the palm upwards. These are often involved in movements that cause tennis elbow.

How to Perform?

  • Sit in a chair with a two-pound dumbbell held vertically in your hand. Rest your elbow on your knees.
  • Let your arm rotate outwards by the weight of the dumbbell by turning your palm upward.
  • Then rotate your hand to the other direction so that your palm is facing down.
  • Repeat 18-20 times on both sides.

Pro Tip:

Make sure to isolate your lower arm movement while keeping your elbow and upper arm still.

Forearm Pull

Target: It targets muscles in the forearm, bicep brachii, and tendons.

How to Perform?

  • Stand and bend your knees slightly.
  • Keep your palms facing down and hold the weight bar at shoulder level.
  • Make sure your upper arms are close to the sides of your body.
  • Now slowly push the weight down and back up.
  • Perform three sets with 10 reps each.

Elbow Bends

Target: It targets the biceps, brachioradialis, and brachialis.

How to Perform?

  • Stand straight and lower your arm to the side.
  • Lift the arm by bending it at the elbow until it touches your shoulder.
  • Stay in that position for 20-30 seconds and repeat.
  • Perform two to three sets with 10 reps.

Eccentric Exercise for Strengthening

Eccentric Exercise for Strengthening

Eccentric exercises are great for tennis elbow as they strengthen the forearm muscles and reduce elbow pain.

According to a 2007 study by Croisier et al conducted on 92 patients,
“The group of patients who performed eccentric exercises showed a significant decline in pain and improved disability status.”

How to Perform?

  • Sit and rest your affected arm on a table or your wrist with a dumbbell in hand while keeping your palm facing downwards.
  • Then slowly raise and lower the weight by moving your wrist up and down without bending your arms.
  • Perform 10 reps, rest, and repeat.

4. Tips for Lifting Weight with Tennis Elbow

To avoid elbow pain while lifting weight, you must pay attention to the following:

  • Always warm up before the exercise by doing an elbow massage.
  • Start with light weights and then gradually transition to heavier weights.
  • Do high-rep exercises to promote healing by building endurance and stimulating blood flow.
  • A little muscle soreness is normal after finishing the exercises. Use ice packs after the exercise to relieve any pain or swelling.

5. Avoid Exercises that Worsen Tennis Elbow

To heal the tennis elbow, make sure to avoid exercises that can agitate the injuries, leading to sharp pain and discomfort.

These include:

  • Chin-ups
  • Push-ups
  • Repetitive motion exercises
  • Straight arm exercises
  • Bench presses, etc.

6. Take Precautions

  • Before doing any exercise, consult your doctor for a full evaluation of any muscle or tendon tears.
  • Don’t start any activity until the swelling is reduced.
  • Rest and use ice if the pain returns after any activity.
  • Change the way you perform exercises as it can help to reduce the symptoms and determine movements causing pain.

7. Home Treatment and Prevention

The pain should ease within two weeks if repetitive actions are stopped and proper rest is taken. Other methods of home treatment include:

  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, e.g. ibuprofen
  • Ice and heat packs
  • Joint protection

To prevent tennis elbow:

  • Avoid repetitive activities
  • Adjust arm movements
  • Do exercises designed for strengthening forearm muscles

8. Takeaways

Tennis elbow can make it difficult for some people to go about their daily lives. A doctor may recommend occupational or physical therapy in such situations.

You can also get recommendations for treatments and exercises from a professional to help reduce pain and improve motion.

A supporting brace or clasp may also be recommended by a doctor or therapist. This can be of great help in reducing strain if a person's job requires repetitive movement.

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