We hate injuries here at GetMeFit and like to find creative ways to work around them, so we can help our members find a safe way to move while they recover. It's much harder to rebuild your motivation if you have to give up exercise completely, so where possible we always like to find ways to adapt rather than stop.
Obviously common sense must prevail; sometimes you need to stop and you should always follow the advice of your doctor, but this post is focusing on a relatively common issue we come across, tennis elbow.
What is tennis elbow?
Tennis elbow (also known as lateral epicondylitis) is caused by small tears and inflammation in the tendons that join the forearm to the outside of the elbow.
It often occurs due to overusing the forearm muscles and tendons and those around the elbow joint with repetitive movements (not necessarily from tennis, activities such as painting, typing, or using a screwdriver can do it too).
It's thought to affect from 1% to 3% of the population, and usually occurs between the ages of 30 and 50 years.
Pain can occur when the individual lifts or bends the arm. It is also felt while performing basic actions, such as writing or when gripping small objects. Tennis elbow can cause pain when twisting the forearm. This can be noticeable when turning a door handle or extending the forearm fully.
Symptoms of tennis elbow include pain and tenderness on the outer part of the elbow, weakness in the forearm, and pain that radiates down the arm. It's usually worse when gripping objects or lifting weights, and may also be present at rest.
Treatment for tennis elbow typically includes rest, ice, and over-the-counter pain relievers. Physical therapy can also be helpful, as it can strengthen the muscles and tendons in the arm and improve flexibility.
If these measures do not provide relief, a doctor may recommend a brace or a corticosteroid injection. In more severe cases, surgery may be required to release the tension on the tendons and relieve the pain.
How to help yourself avoid tennis elbow
To prevent tennis elbow, it is important to engage in regular exercise to maintain strength and flexibility in the arm, wrist and shoulder. It is also important to use proper technique when engaging in activities that involve repetitive arm motions, and to take frequent breaks to rest the arm.
If you spend a lot of time at your desk, make sure you set up is ergonomically correct. Since so many of us have been working from home on makeshift desk spaces/dining tables/wherever you can perch, it has caused a lot of muscular skeletal issues for employees.
Rehabilitative exercises for tennis elbow
There are several exercises that can help to alleviate pain and improve strength and flexibility in the muscles and tendons affected by tennis elbow. These exercises should be done under the guidance of a physical therapist or other healthcare professional to ensure that they are done correctly and to avoid further injury.
Wrist Extension: Sit with your forearm on a table or bench and your hand hanging off the edge. Use your other hand to gently push your fingers down, then release. Repeat this exercise for several repetitions.
Wrist Flexion: Sit with your forearm on a table or bench and your hand hanging off the edge. Use your other hand to gently push your fingers up, then release. Repeat this exercise for several repetitions.
Reverse Wrist Curl: Hold a weight (such as a light dumbbell or a can of soup) in your hand and sit with the forearm resting on a bench or table and the wrist hanging off the edge. Then lift the weight by extending the wrist, and then lowered back down in a controlled manner.
Grip Strengthening: Squeeze a rubber ball or a hand gripper for several repetitions.
Forearm Pronation and Supination: Hold a light weight in your hand, and rotate your wrist to turn your palm up and then down. Repeat this exercise for several repetitions.
Eccentric wrist flexion: Hold a light weight in your hand and flex your wrist while lowering the weight slowly. Repeat this exercise for several repetitions.
These exercises should be done in a controlled and gradual manner, and it's best to start with low weights or no weights and increase the resistance gradually. Also, be sure to rest and ice the elbow between sets and after exercise.
Exercises you should avoid with tennis elbow
It's important to avoid exercises that put additional stress on the tendons and muscles affected by the injury. Here are some bodyweight and dumbbell exercises that can put additional stress on the tendons and muscles in the elbow and exacerbate pain:
Pull-ups or chin-ups
Exercises that may work with tennis elbow
Here are some suggestions for bodyweight and dumbbell exercises to try:
Shoulder mobility exercises: These exercises can be done to improve shoulder range of motion and stability, such as shoulder circles, shoulder shrugs, and arm swings.
Core exercises: Core exercises such as planks, bridges, dead bugs and bird-dog can help to stabilize the spine, which in turn can help alleviate the pain in the elbow.
Lower body exercises: More focus on these can help you maintain regular exercise whilst giving your arms and upper body time to heal.
Cardio exercises: This can be trial and error. If your inflammation is bad in your elbow it can be uncomfortable so best avoided for a while. If it doesn't cause pain then you are good to go.
It's important to remember that everyone's condition is different, what may be beneficial for one person may not be for another. These exercises should be done in a controlled and gradual manner, and it's best to start with low weights or no weights and increase the resistance gradually. And be sure to rest and ice the elbow between sets and after exercise. Ultimately it's best to consult with a physical therapist or healthcare professional to determine which exercises are appropriate for you, and to create an exercise plan that fits your needs and goals. If you're a full member of GetMeFit, why not use our Tailored plan service?