Physical Therapy and Exercises for Tennis Elbow

Tennis Elbow pain

Lateral epicondylitis, commonly known as tennis elbow, is characterized by the inflammation caused by the straining of the tendon called the extensor carpi radialis brevis tendon. The extensor carpi radialis brevis tendon connects the forearm to the elbow.

Tennis elbow is a common condition, which affects about 1 to 3% of the adult population(1). Further, the problem is compounded by the fact that the recurrence rate for tennis elbow is 8.5%(2) within 2 years.

Fortunately, you can treat tennis elbow through over-the-counter prescription drugs, and non-surgical therapies can efficiently alleviate the symptoms associated with tennis elbow. Here are a few useful tennis elbow physical therapy exercises that will grant you relief.

Physical Therapy for Tennis Elbow

The first aid that you need to offer for tennis elbow is by reducing the inflammation and resting the swollen tendons and muscles. Thus, apply an ice pack or compression could help in reducing the pain and discomfort in the first instance. Once the inflammation has subsided, you may perform physical therapy for elbow tendonitis.

Here is a list of all the relevant and important physical therapy for tennis elbow:

1. Fist Clench

Tennis elbow can adversely impact your grip strength. Hence, you need to perform this exercise to build your forearm muscles and to improve your grip strength.

Equipment Needed

  • Table
  • Rolled-up towel or small ball

Muscles Worked

Long flexor tendons of the fingers and thumb

Steps for Performing Exercise

  • Sit straight and rest your forearm on the table.
  • Hold the ball or the towel in your hand.
  • Squeeze the towel/ball in your hand and hold it for about 10 seconds.
  • Release.
  • Repeat steps 1 to 4 for 10 times.
  • Switch and perform the exercise for the other arm.

Frequency

Perform 20 reps of Fist Clench 4 times a day, which is to be done 5 to 7 days in a week.

[Read: Manage Rhomboid Pain at Home]

2. Supination with Dumbbell

physical therapy for tennis elbow Dumbbell
Image: ShutterStock

The supinator muscle is a large muscle present in the forearm that is attached to the elbow. It helps in movements like turning the palm upwards. This muscle is also involved in the movements that cause tennis elbow.

Equipment Needed

  • Table
  • 1 kg (2-pound) dumbbell

Muscles Worked

Supinator muscle

Steps for Performing Exercise

  • Sit straight on a chair and rest your elbow on your knee. Hold a 1-kg dumbbell vertically in the hand.
  • Allow the weight of the dumbbell to rotate your arm outwards, which you turn the palm up.
  • Now rotate the hand in the opposite direction where the palm faces downwards.
  • Repeat steps 2 and 3 for at least 20 times on each side.
  • Switch arms and redo the exercise.

NOTE: Try and restrict the movement to your lower arm while keeping your upper arm and elbow absolutely still.

Frequency

Perform 30 reps of Supination with Dumbbell once a day, which is to be done 5 to 7 days in a week.

3. Wrist Extension

Wrist extensor muscles are responsible for actions involving bending the wrist while signaling a stop sign. These muscles, which are connected to the elbow, are often overused when you play racquet sports.

Equipment Needed

  • Table
  • 1-kg (2-pound) dumbbell

Muscles Worked

Wrist extensors

Steps for Performing Exercise

  • Sit in a straight position in your chair and rest your elbow on your knee. Hold the 1-kg dumbbell in your hand with your palm facing downwards.
  • While keeping your palm face-down, extend the wrist by curling it inwards (that is, towards your body). If you experience intense pain, try this exercise without any weight.
  • Return to the initial position and repeat the steps 10 times on either side.

NOTE: Try to restrict the movement to the wrist and keep the rest of the arm still. Do not lock your elbows.

Frequency

Perform 5 reps of Wrist Extension Stretch 4 times a day, which is to be done 5 to 7 days in a week.

[Read: Technique for Tennis Elbow]

4. Wrist Flexion

Wrist flexors are the group of muscles that have a movement opposite to wrist extensors. These small muscles are connected to the elbow, and overuse of these muscles could cause pain and inflammation.

Equipment Needed

  • Table
  • 1-kg (2-pound) dumbbell

Muscles Worked

Wrist flexors

Steps for Performing Exercise

  • Sit on a chair and rest your elbow comfortably on your knee. Hold the 1-kg dumbbell in your hands with the palm facing upwards.
  • With your palm facing upwards, flex your wrist by curling it inwards (that is, towards your body)
  • Return to the initial position and repeat the exercise 10 times on either side.

NOTE: Try to restrict the movement to the wrist while keeping the rest of your arm absolutely still. Do not lock your elbows.

Frequency

Perform 5 reps of Wrist Flexion Stretch 4 times a day, which is to be done 5 to 7 days in a week.

5. Towel Twist

The Towel Twist can work on your wrist extensor and wrist flexor. The opposing motions strengthen the tendons and the muscles that are weakened due to tennis elbow.

Equipment Needed

  • Hand towels

Muscles Worked

Wrist extensors and wrist flexors

Steps for Performing Exercise

  • Sit on a chair with your back straight. Hold the towel in both your hands and relax your shoulders.
  • Twist the towel using both your hands in the opposite direction. The action must mimic the action where you are wringing out water.
  • Repeat the steps at least 10 times.
  • Switch the direction of the twist and repeat the steps for another 10 times.

Frequency

Perform 10 reps of Towel Twist 2 times a day, which is to be done 5 to 7 days in a week.

6. Stress Ball Squeeze

Stress Ball Squeeze
Image: ShutterStock

You should perform this exercise after completing the above strengthening exercise.

Equipment Needed

  • Rubber stress ball

Muscles Worked

Extensor – Digitorum

Four Flexor – the digit minima Brevis, pollicis longus, digitorum superficialis, and digitorum products

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Steps for Performing Exercise

  • Hold the rubber stress ball in the palm of your hand with your palm facing upwards.
  • Bend your elbow and tuck it at your side. Ensure that your right forearm is parallel to the floor.
  • Gently squeeze the ball with your fingers and palm. Hold it for 2 to 3 seconds.
  • Repeat.
  • Switch hands and perform the exercise on the other hand.

NOTE: If you feel your hand is cramping up, release the stress ball and shake your hand gently to relax the muscles.

Frequency

Perform 10 reps of Stress Ball Squeeze once a day, which is to be done 5 to 7 days in a week.

[Read: Yoga for Shoulder Pain]

7. Finger Stretch

You should perform the finger stretch exercise after completing the above strengthening exercise. This exercise alleviates the pain and improves the range of motion of your hands.

Equipment Needed

  • Elastic band

Muscles Worked

Extensor – Digitorum

Four Flexor – the digit minima Brevis, pollicis longus, digitorum superficialis(3), and digitorum products

Steps for Performing Exercise

  • Place the elastic band around your four fingers. Position it around the middle of your digits.
  • Gently straighten your fingers without forcing your joints.
  • Hold the position for about 30 seconds and then release it.

Frequency

Perform 10 reps of Finger Stretch once a day, which is to be done 5 to 7 days in a week.

Prevention Tips

In addition to the elbow physical therapy exercises mentioned above, here are a few tips that will prevent further aggravation of your condition.

  • Avoid or reduce repetitive activities.
  • Rest your arm as it will aid your recovery.
  • Perform exercises regularly, especially if you are unable to avoid repetitive actions.
  • Consult a doctor before attempting the exercise.
  • Use an ice pack to reduce inflammation.

When to See a Doctor

See a doctor if you show experience severe pain, swelling, and bruising around the joint.

Tennis elbow can be quite a nuisance that hampers with your normal routine. Thankfully, just including these physical therapy exercises for tennis elbow can positively impact your fight against tennis elbow. You will notice a significant relief in the symptoms and a greater degree of freedom in your movement. Follow this routine regularly. However, do not overstress your muscles and tendons.

Happy healing!


FAQs

Here are a few frequently asked questions about tennis elbow:

1. How is Tennis Elbow diagnosed?

The most common technique to diagnose tennis elbow is by testing for grip strength using a dynamometer. Other methods include Mill’s test, Cozen’s test, and Maudsley’s test.

2. Does Tennis Elbow require surgery?

If all the conventional methods of fixing tennis elbow fail, then you should consider getting surgery.

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