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5 Exercises for Tennis Elbow Rehab

exercises for tennis elbow

Tennis elbow, also known as lateral epicondylitis, is caused by inflammation of the muscles of the forearm that attach to the elbow. It’s usually a result of inflammation of the extensor carpi radialis brevis tendon.

Tennis elbow is an overuse injury caused by a repetitive activity. Although common in racquet sports, it can also be seen in workplace injuries, particularly among painters, carpenters, and plumbers.

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According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, typical signs and symptoms of tennis elbow include pain and burning on the outside of the elbow and weak grip strength.

Symptoms develop over time and may gradually worsen over weeks or months. Nonsurgical treatment includes:

The first steps in treating tennis elbow are reducing inflammation and resting the irritated muscles and tendons. Ice and compression may also help reduce inflammation and pain. Once inflammation subsides, you can begin gentle exercises to strengthen the muscles of the forearm and prevent recurrence. Be sure to check with your doctor or therapist to determine when you are ready to begin therapy exercises.

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Fist clench

Poor grip strength is a common symptom of tennis elbow. Improving grip strength by building the muscles of the forearm can help improve ability to perform daily activities.

Equipment needed: table and towel

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Muscles worked: long flexor tendons of the fingers and thumb

Fist clench
Image Source: Model is Amy Crandall
  1. Sit at a table with your forearm resting on the table.
  2. Hold a rolled up towel or small ball in your hand.
  3. Squeeze the towel in your hand and hold for 10 seconds.
  4. Release and repeat 10 times. Switch and do the other arm.

Supination with a dumbbell

The supinator muscle is a large muscle of the forearm that attaches into the elbow. It’s responsible for turning the palm upward and is often involved in movements that can cause tennis elbow.

Equipment needed: table and 2-pound dumbbell

Muscles worked: supinator muscle

Supination with a dumbbell
Image Source: Model is Amy Crandall
  1. Sit in a chair holding a 2-pound dumbbell vertically in your hand with your elbow resting on your knee.
  2. Let the weight of the dumbbell help rotate the arm outward, turning the palm up.
  3. Rotate the hand back the other direction until your palm is facing downward.
  4. Repeat 20 times on each side.
  5. Try to isolate the movement to your lower arm, keeping your upper arm and elbow still.

Wrist extension

The wrist extensors are a group of muscles that are responsible for bending the wrist, like during the hand signal for stop. These small muscles that connect into the elbow are often subject to overuse, especially during racquet sports.

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Equipment needed: table and 2-pound dumbbell

Muscles worked: wrist extensors

Wrist extension
Image Source: Model is Amy Crandall
  1. Sit in a chair holding a 2-pound dumbbell in your hand with your palm facing down, resting your elbow comfortably on your knee.
  2. Keeping your palm facing down, extend your wrist by curling it towards your body. If this is too challenging, do the movement with no weight.
  3. Return to starting position and repeat 10 times on each side.
  4. Try to isolate the movement to the wrist, keeping the rest of the arm still.

Wrist flexion

The wrist flexors are a group of muscles that work opposite the wrist extensors. These small muscles that connect into the elbow are also subject to overuse, leading to pain and inflammation.

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Equipment needed: table and 2-pound dumbbell

Muscles worked: wrist flexors

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Wrist flexion
Image Source: Model is Amy Crandall
  1. Sit in a chair holding a 2-pound dumbbell in your hand with your palm facing up and elbow resting comfortably on your knee.
  2. Keeping your palm facing up, flex your wrist by curling it towards your body.
  3. Return to starting position and repeat 10 times on each side.
  4. Try to isolate the movement to the wrist, keeping the rest of the arm still.

Towel twist

Equipment needed: hand towel

Muscles worked: wrist extensors, wrist flexors

Towel twist
Image Source: Model is Amy Crandall
  1. Sit in a chair holding a towel with both hands, shoulders relaxed.
  2. Twist the towel with both hands in opposite directions as if you are wringing out water.
  3. Repeat 10 times then repeat another 10 times in the other direction.

Warnings

Always consult a doctor before starting an exercise program. It’s important to have a full evaluation to rule out serious injuries such as a muscle or tendon tear.

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Don’t begin activities until inflammation has subsided, as it may aggravate the condition. If pain returns after activity, rest and ice your elbow and forearm and consult a physical or occupational therapist to ensure you are doing the exercises correctly.

Often, changing the way you perform a daily activity can help decrease symptoms and your therapist can help you determine what movements may be causing pain.

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Takeaway

If you have had tennis elbow in the past or are recovering from it now, try these exercises to help strengthen your forearm muscles and improve function. Strengthening the muscles and avoiding repetitive motions can go a long way in helping to avoid this issue in the future.

Natasha
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