4 exercises to heal or prevent tennis elbow

Feeling pain in your elbow, wrist and hand? The cause could be tennis elbow. Tennis elbow, sometimes referred to as lateral epicondylitis, is swelling in certain tendons that run through your elbow and forearm. These tendons function to help your wrist bend backward. When these tendons become inflamed, regular wrist and elbow movements can become more difficult and painful. One of the most common symptoms is persistent pain around the outside of the elbow. Some people also experience pain in the forearm and wrist. The condition is called tennis elbow because it is typically associated with the kind of repetitive wrist and elbow movements that are common when playing tennis. However, you don’t have to be a tennis player to develop tennis elbow. Repeated stress and overuse of the elbow and wrist tendons in any activity can increase the risk of tennis elbow.

If you are experiencing pain, swelling and tenderness from tennis elbow, it is important to seek treatment. Physical therapy can be an excellent way to start your healing journey. When addressing tennis elbow, one of the most beneficial PT treatments is exercise. After assessing your condition, your physical therapist will create an exercise plan that meets your needs. Learning about some of the exercises that are often used to heal and prevent tennis elbow can help you prepare for treatment.

Key exercises for preventing and healing tennis elbow

  • Wrist flexor and extensor stretches — Though the condition is called tennis elbow, it has a major effect on the wrist as well as the elbow. With the right wrist stretches, you can start alleviating pain and stiffness. Stretches can also promote circulation, accelerating your body’s natural healing processes. To do wrist flexor stretches, extend the affected arm out in front of you. With your other hand, grasp the fingers of the affected hand and gently pull them so that your palm faces outward. You should feel a stretch from your wrist into your forearm. Try to hold the stretch for up to 30 seconds; then release and repeat. The ideal number of repetitions will depend on your condition. Your physical therapist can offer personalized guidance on each exercise. 

Wrist extensor stretches are similar to flexor stretches, but they work out a different set of tendons. Instead of pulling your fingers with your palm facing outward, extensor stretches involve your palm facing toward you. By doing flexor and extensor stretches, you can help relieve tension and swelling in your wrist tendons.

  • Pronation and supination — With your palm facing down, hold a light weight in your hand. Rotate your forearm outward until you feel a stretch. Then reverse direction, rotating your arm inward. These motions are called pronation and supination. The upward movement is supination and the downward movement is pronation. This rotation exercise is a great stretch for your forearm, which is one of the main areas affected by tennis elbow. In addition to providing relief from your symptoms, stretching the forearm can also help reduce the risk of tennis elbow recurring in the future.
  • Wrist extension and flexion — With your palm facing down, hold a light weight in your hand. Lift your wrist up slowly and slowly back down. This will strengthen your forearm extensor muscles. Then, with your palm facing up, hold a light weight in your hand. Lift your wrist up toward you, curling in and slowly back down. This will strengthen your wrist flexors. 
  • Finger stretches — Your finger motions are directly facilitated by moving parts in the wrist. By stretching your fingers, you can also exercise your wrist. One of the best exercises for this involves putting a rubber band around all the fingers on one hand. Try to move your fingers apart from each other so that the band stretches into a larger circle. You should feel the stretch in your fingers as well as your wrist.

What upper body exercises can you do with tennis elbow?

Tennis elbow can limit your ability to perform certain upper body exercises. Some upper body exercises can actually worsen your condition. Fortunately, there are also plenty of safe alternatives. Here are some upper body exercises that are generally safe for people with tennis elbow:

  • Biceps curls — When doing biceps curls with tennis elbow, it is important to maintain a neutral grip. This means your palms should be facing each other. A neutral grip can help you avoid putting unnecessary stress on your wrists. With a dumbbell in each hand, slowly curl the weights toward your shoulders. Try to keep your elbows close to your sides throughout the motion. After raising the weights, lower them back down in a slow, controlled movement. Biceps curls with a neutral grip can be a great way to build shoulder and upper arm strength without increasing the risk of further injury.
  • Triceps kickbacks — Triceps kickbacks are another dumbbell exercise that can usually be performed by people with tennis elbow. Like any exercise, though, it can help to check with your physical therapist beforehand to ensure that it is safe for you. To do triceps kickbacks, hold a dumbbell in one hand and bend your upper body forward at the hips. Keeping your back straight, bend your elbow at a 90-degree angle and move your weight-bearing arm back until the dumbbell is at your hip. Then extend the arm, straightening it behind you. You should feel this motion engage your triceps, which are the muscles along the back of your upper arm. You can repeat this exercise with each arm. 
  • Modified lat pulldowns — The latissimus dorsi muscles, often simply called the lats, are large, flat muscles in the back. Lat pulldowns work out these muscles, which can be great for building upper body strength. However, regular lat pulldowns can hinder progress with tennis elbow recovery. To get a similar workout without hurting your elbow, you should modify your lat pulldowns. One popular alternative to using a standard pulldown machine involves using a resistance band instead. Using a resistance band, you can get the same pulling-down motion without bending your elbow as much. This can prevent further injury and even reduce tension in the elbow.

Address your tennis elbow with SSOR

SSOR (Specialists in Sports and Orthopedic Rehabilitation) offers top-notch treatment for tennis elbow. In addition to a tailored exercise plan, we can work with you to provide a range of other evidence-backed PT treatments. With our help, you can experience relief from your symptoms and work to prevent more overuse injuries in the future.

Call us or request an appointment today to get professional treatment for your tennis elbow.