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Tennis Elbow: Top Exercises for Relief & Recovery


tennis-elbow-top-exercises-for-relief-recovery

Posted by Dr. Scott Wilson | 01-May-2024

Key Highlights:

  • Tennis elbow, or lateral epicondylitis, is a condition characterized by inflammation of the muscles that attach to the elbow.
  • It’s caused by repetitive movements, particularly in racquet sports, and can also be seen in workplace injuries.
  • Common symptoms include pain and burning on the outside of the elbow, weak grip strength, and tenderness.
  • Physiotherapy plays a crucial role in the recovery of tennis elbow, offering pain relief and a customized treatment plan.
  • Essential exercises for tennis elbow relief include the wrist extension stretch, wrist flexor stretch, towel twist exercise, and isometric wrist extension.
  • Advanced strengthening exercises like the eccentric wrist extension and forearm supination and pronation can help with long-term recovery.

Tennis elbow, also known as lateral epicondylitis, is a common overuse injury impacting the tendons and muscles on the outside of the elbow. It’s a condition that often arises among those engaged in repetitive activities, like tennis or tasks involving repeated gripping or wrist twists. Characterized by pain, tenderness and discomfort along the outer elbow, it can impact forearm function and grip strength, and can worsen gradually if untreated. The good news is that with proper treatment, rest and avoiding exacerbating activities, recovery is possible. In this article, we’ll look more closely at the causes and symptoms of tennis elbow, and at how physiotherapy treatment and exercises can help.

Understanding Tennis Elbow

Tennis elbow, or lateral epicondylitis, is a condition characterized by inflammation of the tendons and muscles on the outside of your elbow. It can be an extremely painful condition that can significantly impact your daily life and, if left untreated, can worsen over time.

What Causes Tennis Elbow?

As indicated above, the primary cause of tennis elbow is repetitive movements that strain the tendons and muscles on the outside of your elbow. Repetitive stress leads to micro-tears in your tendons, which causes inflammation and pain. While it’s commonly associated with racquet sports, tennis elbow can be cause by various other activities involving repetitive gripping or twisting motions of your wrist and forearm.

Racquet sports, such as tennis, squash, and badminton, often require repetitive gripping and swinging motions, which can put significant strain on the tendons and muscles of your forearm. However, other activities that contribute to the development of tennis elbow include repetitive workplace tasks, such as painting, carpentry, or plumbing, that involve gripping tools or performing repetitive wrist and forearm movements. In some cases, a sudden increase in the intensity or duration of these activities can also lead to the development of tennis elbow.

Signs and Symptoms of Tennis Elbow

Common symptoms of tennis elbow include pain and tenderness on the outside of your elbow. This pain can radiate up or down your arm, affecting any daily activities that involve gripping or twisting motions. Other symptoms may include a weakened grip strength and difficulty in performing any tasks that involve the use of your forearms. The actual pain and tenderness you feel is caused by inflammation of your extensor carpi radialis brevis tendon, which connects your forearm muscles to the lateral epicondyle of your elbow. In addition to elbow pain and tenderness, you may also experience swelling, discomfort, and limited range of motion in the affected arm. It’s important to recognize these signs and symptoms, and to seek appropriate treatment for both pain relief and to prevent your condition from worsening.

Physiotherapy, Pain Relief and Recovery

Physiotherapy, or physical therapy, plays a crucial role in the recovery of tennis elbow. Its goal is to relieve pain, reduce inflammation, restore range of motion, and improve overall function. Your physiotherapist can evaluate your condition, create a customized treatment plan for you, and provide guidance throughout your recovery.

Treatments may include a combination of manual therapy techniques, various modalities and exercises and stretches. Manual therapy techniques, such as soft tissue mobilization and joint mobilization, help reduce pain and promote healing by reducing muscle tension and restoring normal movement. Modalities like ultrasound, electrical stimulation and ice therapy can provide pain relief and aid in tissue healing by stimulating the nerves and promoting muscle contraction, which can improve muscle function and reduce tension. And targeted exercises and stretches aim to strengthen the affected muscles, improve grip strength, and restore flexibility.

Why Does a Customized Treatment Plan Matter?

A customized physiotherapy treatment plan is important for tennis elbow relief and recovery because each person’s condition and requirements are unique. Your physiotherapist created treatment plan would be based on an assessment of the severity of your injury, your functional limitations, biomechanical imbalances, and any underlying or contributing issues. The various treatments, modalities and exercises included speak to the specifics of your condition to effectively address pain, improve mobility and strength, correct movement patterns, and facilitate a safe return to your regular activities.

In addition, your physiotherapist may also provide guidance on modifying your daily activities to prevent further strain on your elbow and promote healing. This may involve making specific ergonomic adjustments at work and home, proper technique during physical activities, and the use of braces or supports to provide additional support and stability.

Essential Exercises for Tennis Elbow Relief

Exercises play a crucial role in relieving tennis elbow symptoms and promoting recovery. They focus on stretching and strengthening the affected muscles and tendons, improving flexibility, and restoring muscle balance. A comprehensive exercise program for tennis elbow may include the following exercises:

  • Towel Twist Exercise: This exercise helps improve your grip strength and forearm muscle function.
  • Isometric Wrist Extension: This exercise focuses on isometric contractions to strengthen your wrist extensors and improve your grip strength.
  • Wrist Extension Stretch: This stretch targets your wrist extensors and helps improve your flexibility and range of motion.
  • Wrist Flexor Stretch: This stretch targets your wrist flexors and aids in stretching and restoring your muscle balance.

Incorporating these essential exercises into your regular exercise routine can promote healing, reduce pain, and improve the overall functioning of your affected arm.

Towel Twist Exercise

The towel twist exercise targets the muscles in your forearm responsible for grip strength and forearm rotation. To perform the towel twist exercise:

  1. Sit in a chair with your affected arm extended in front of you, holding a small towel or cloth with both hands.
  2. Twist the towel in opposite directions, as if wringing out water.
  3. Repeat the twisting motion 10 times in each direction, feeling the muscles in your forearm working.
  4. Rest for a short period and repeat the exercise for a total of 2-3 sets.

This exercise can help to improve your grip strength, enhance the functioning of your forearm muscles, and aid in your recovery.

Isometric Wrist Extension

The isometric wrist extension exercise involves contracting your muscles without moving your joints. To perform isometric wrist extensions:

  1. Start by sitting in a chair with your forearm supported on a table or your thigh.
  2. Position your affected hand with the palm facing downward, and place a small weight or object (such as a tennis ball) in your hand.
  3. Squeeze the object tightly with your hand and hold the contraction for 10-15 seconds.
  4. Relax your hand and repeat the exercise for a total of 5-10 repetitions.

This exercise can strengthen your wrist extensor muscles, improve your grip strength, and improve the overall functioning of your forearm muscles.

Wrist Extension Stretch

The wrist extension stretch specifically targets your wrist extensors, which are the muscles responsible for bending your wrist backward. To perform the wrist extension stretch:

  1. Start by extending your affected arm in front of you with your palm facing downward.
  2. Use your other hand to apply gentle pressure to the back of your hand, helping to further extend your wrist.
  3. Hold the stretch for 15-30 seconds, feeling a mild stretch in your forearm muscles.
  4. Repeat the stretch 3-5 times, with short rests in between each repetition.

This stretch helps improve flexibility in your wrist extensors, reduces muscle tension and promotes healing.

Wrist Flexor Stretch

The wrist flexor stretch targets your wrist flexor muscles, which are the muscles responsible for bending your wrist forward. To perform the wrist flexor stretch:

  1. Start by extending your affected arm in front of you with your palm facing upward.
  2. Use your other hand to apply gentle pressure to your fingers and hand, helping to further flex your wrist.
  3. Hold the stretch for 15-30 seconds, feeling a mild stretch in your forearm muscles.
  4. Repeat the stretch 3-5 times, with short rests in between each repetition.

This stretch helps improve flexibility in your wrist flexors, reduces muscle tension and promotes healing.

Advanced Strengthening Exercises

Advanced strengthening exercises can further improve your forearm muscle strength, grip strength, and overall function. Here are two effective advanced strengthening exercises for tennis elbow:

  • Eccentric Wrist Extension: This exercise involves controlled movements to eccentrically load your wrist extensor muscles, promoting strength and muscle function.
  • Forearm Supination and Pronation: This exercise targets your supinator muscle and involves rotating your forearm between supination (palm up) and pronation (palm down), improving your forearm muscle strength and coordination.

Advanced strengthening exercises can enhance forearm muscle strength and promote long-term recovery from tennis elbow. However, they should be performed under the guidance of a physiotherapist or physical therapist to ensure proper technique and prevent excessive strain on the affected muscles.

Eccentric Wrist Extension

The eccentric wrist extension exercise focuses on the eccentric loading of your wrist extensor muscles. To perform eccentric wrist extensions:

  1. Sit in a chair with your forearm supported on a table or your thigh.
  2. Hold a dumbbell in your affected hand, palm facing downward.
  3. Slowly lower the dumbbell by extending your wrist, resisting the downward motion with controlled eccentric contractions.
  4. Return to the starting position and repeat the exercise for a total of 8-12 repetitions.

Eccentric exercises involve lengthening your muscles under tension and can promote muscle strength, enhance grip strength, and aid in your recovery process.

Forearm Supination and Pronation

The forearm supination and pronation exercise target your supinator muscles, which are responsible for rotating your forearms. To perform forearm supination and pronation:

  1. Sit in a chair with your forearm supported on a table or your thigh.
  2. Hold a dumbbell or other weighted object in your affected hand, palm facing downward.
  3. Rotate your forearm from a pronated position (palm down) to a supinated position (palm up), feeling the muscles in your forearm working.
  4. Reverse the rotation, moving from a supinated position to a pronated position.
  5. Repeat the rotational movement for a total of 8-12 repetitions.

This exercise can help improve your forearm muscle strength, coordination, and function. However, it can be challenging and should be performed with proper technique and controlled movements.

Adjusting Your Daily Habits for Faster Recovery

Making adjustments to certain daily habits can result in a faster recovery from tennis elbow and can prevent further strain. This includes making ergonomic adjustments, ensuring proper rest, and avoiding exacerbating activities.

Ergonomic Adjustments at Work and Home

Making ergonomic adjustments in your daily activities, both at work and home, can help reduce strain on your elbow and forearm muscles, promoting faster recovery from tennis elbow. Ergonomic adjustments to consider include:

  • Adjusting the height and angle of workstations to ensure proper alignment your forearms and wrists during activities.
  • Using supportive equipment such as ergonomic keyboards, mouse pads, or wrist rests to provide additional support and reduce strain on the affected muscles.
  • Maintaining proper posture during activities, including keeping your shoulders relaxed, elbows at a comfortable angle, and wrists in a neutral position.

An occupational therapist or ergonomics specialist can provide valuable guidance on making the right ergonomic adjustments based on your activities and condition.

The Importance of Rest and Proper Technique

Getting proper rest and using proper technique are crucial factors for your recovery from tennis elbow. Giving your affected muscles and tendons adequate time to rest and heal can promote faster recovery and prevent further strain. By resting your affected arm and avoiding activities that exacerbate your symptoms allows for the reduction of inflammation and promotes tissue healing. It’s also important to gradually reintroduce activities and exercises to avoid re-aggravating your condition. In addition to resting, using proper technique during activities is essential for preventing strain on the affected muscles. This may involve modifying your movements, using proper body mechanics, and ensuring proper form during exercises or sports activities. By combining rest and proper technique, you can promote healing, improve your quality of life, and prevent recurrence of symptoms.

Conclusion

Tennis elbow, or lateral epicondylitis, is a common pain and potentially debilitating condition, but it can be effectively managed through a combination of physiotherapy and targeted exercises. Understanding the causes, symptoms, and treatment options is crucial for ensuring a successful recovery. Working with a physiotherapist or physical therapist can have a significant impact on reducing pain and promoting healing, with tailored exercise and stretched playing a critical role. Of course, making specific adjustments to your daily routines can help to support and even accelerate your recovery.

If you or someone you know is struggling with tennis elbow, we can help. Contact us today and let us show you why, at Physiomed…Healthier Starts Here.

Frequently Asked Questions About Tennis Elbow and Recovery Exercises:

What preventative measures can I take to avoid tennis elbow?

To avoid getting tennis elbow, consider using proper equipment, maintaining good technique, and gradually increasing intensity. Performing stretching and strengthening exercises for your forearms and wrists on a regular basis can also help.

Can I continue playing tennis while recovering from tennis elbow?

It’s best to avoid playing tennis while recovering from tennis elbow to prevent further strain on your affected tendons. Rest and proper rehabilitation exercises are crucial for a successful recovery and you should consult with a registered physiotherapist for personalized guidance.

What’s the best way to preventing my tennis elbow from recurring?

Implementing a proper warm-up routine, using correct equipment and techniques, gradually increasing intensity, maintaining your overall fitness level, and incorporating adequate rest periods can all help to prevent a reoccurrence of tennis elbow. Of course, consistency in performing stretching and strengthening exercises is key.


Dr. Scott Wilson

Dr. Scott Wilson is the Founder & Chairman of Physiomed; one of Canada’s largest franchised networks of inter-disciplinary healthcare clinics. A graduate of Canadian Memorial Chiropractic College, Dr. Wilson founded Physiomed in 1994 and has since grown Physiomed to over 30 clinics in Southern Ontario and British Columbia. With hundreds of practitioners from over a dozen disciplines, Dr. Wilson and Physiomed have helped over 100,000 Canadians with physiotherapy, chiropractic, massage therapy, orthotic therapy, compression therapy and clinical conditioning as part of a program of rehabilitation and health optimization. In addition to helping patients improve their physical and mental well-being, Dr. Wilson has also mentored hundreds of practitioners to provide better care while enjoying more fulfilling careers. He is also a keynote speaker on many health related topics including how physiotherapy, chiropractic and health & wellness treatment can help with stress, weight loss, and unlocking the true potential within to achieve lasting physical well-being.

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