Are you experiencing lingering elbow pain?¬† Have you experienced elbow pain in the past and are unsure why?¬† Weakness of your shoulder muscles and stiffness in your upper back might be contributing to these elbow injuries.¬† Shoulder weakness and upper back stiffness are common in athletes (baseball players, tennis players, and swimmers). Most of us in general population have the same problems due to frequent sitting.¬† A sedentary lifestyle and a less than optimal exercise program is likely contributing to your elbow pain.
Tennis Elbow Pain and Shoulder Weakness
Tennis elbow, also known as lateral epicondylitis, is a common tendon disorder which occurs in both tennis players and the general population.¬† People describe pain on the outside of their elbow aggravated by gripping or lifting activities.¬† Treatment to only the elbow is often unsuccessful or leads to only temporary improvements.¬† Common treatments that produce minimal lasting benefits include medications, injections, braces, ultrasound, laser, or electrical stimulation.¬† Often, muscle weakness at the elbow and neighboring areas are contributing to the persistent elbow pain.¬† Research suggests there is an association between posture and shoulder muscle weakness in people with tennis elbow.
Research shows a link between tennis elbow and muscle strength of the serratus anterior, lower trapezius, and middle trapezius. ¬†Poor rotator cuff strength is also linked to tennis elbow. ¬†These muscles are important for orienting and positioning the shoulder blade during functional activities involving the arm.¬† Poor strength or endurance of these muscles results in overload to the elbow and wrist muscles.¬† Strengthening the scapular stabilizers is an important part of rehabilitation for patients with tennis elbow.¬† Targeting the middle and lower trapezius muscles using dumbbells lying on your stomach is an excellent starting point.
Baseball Players and Elbow Injury
Youth baseball players, ages 6 to 12, with a rounded upper back are 2.5 times more likely to sustain an elbow injury.¬† Exercises that restore mobility in the thoracic spine and strengthen the muscles of the shoulder blade are important to address these problems.¬† Loss of mobility in the thoracic spine from a rounded back position will limit a baseball player‚Äôs ability to achieve the late cocking phase of throwing.¬† Often, these athletes will compensate at their shoulder and elbow in order to achieve the cocked position.¬† Over time, the increased forces at the elbow will overstress the soft tissue and bone leading to injury and pain. The windmill is a great exercise to improve posture and upper back mobility.
Scapular muscle and rotator cuff weakness is associated with throwing-related elbow and shoulder pain in youth baseball players.¬† Also, baseball players with ulnar collateral ligament injuries show decreased strength of the infraspinatus and subscapularis.¬†¬† Similarly, weakness of the supraspinatus muscle is linked to serious arm injury in high school baseball players. ¬†These rotator cuff muscles stabilize the shoulder joint during throwing.¬† Weakness at the shoulder will increase stress further down the chain at the elbow.¬† Baseball players should perform regular arm care exercises which target the scapula and rotator cuff muscles.¬† Examples of these exercises include shoulder external rotation and diagonal patterns with a band or dumbbell.
Closing Thoughts on Strengthening the Shoulder for Elbow Pain
Strengthening the shoulder is an integral part of rehabilitation from an elbow injury.¬† Perhaps, more importantly, these exercises can reduce the risk of elbow injury before the pain starts.¬† Strengthening exercises for the elbow and wrist are also important considerations.¬† However, the shoulder and upper back regions are often neglected when it comes to improving elbow function.¬† This is one reason why elbow injuries and pain often persist longer than expected. ¬†Human movement is more complex than isolated muscles or joints.¬† Therefore, exercise programs should integrate the entire body in order to restore or optimize function. ¬†¬†Give these 5 exercises a try and let us know if you need some extra help.