Tennis Elbow: The Single Best Exercise

Have you been told you have tennis elbow?  Well, you don’t have to play tennis to get this painful condition.  In fact, most people who have tennis elbow do not regularly pick up a racket.  About 3% of adults will end up with tennis elbow.  Office workers and laborers often battle with chronic elbow pain.  Rest, braces, and steroid injections provide some temporary relief.  But to truly get rid of your elbow pain, the right exercises are needed.  This article will teach you about the single best exercise for tennis elbow.

An Exercise Proven to Help Tennis Elbow

A 2018 study published in the Journal of Hand Therapy compared the benefits of 3 different exercises in 34 people with tennis elbow.  The first group did eccentric exercises that focused on slowly lowering weights from an extended wrist position.  The second group did a combined eccentric and concentric exercise that included both lifting and lowering weight.  The final group performed a concentric-eccentric exercise combined with a sustained isometric hold for 45 seconds.

All participants performed their respective exercises 5 days per week.  After 4 weeks, the eccentric-concentric training combined with an isometric hold showed the largest improvements in pain and function.  Even better, after 8 weeks the combined training group reported 75% improvement in pain and more than 100% improvement in function.

How to Do The Best Exercise for Tennis Elbow

Sit with your elbow resting on a table.  Position your forearm in a palm-down position.  Start with your wrist in a cocked or extended position (as high as possible) and your hand hanging over the edge of the table.

From this position, bend your wrist down slowly while counting to 30.  Then, at a normal pace return to the starting position (an extended wrist).  In the starting position, maintain an isometric hold for 45 seconds. After the isometric hold repeat the sequence.  Do 3 sets of 15 repetitions.  Take a 1-minute rest between each set.

Start with light weights or 1 to 2 pounds.  Mild pain (5/10 or less) is acceptable and to be expected.  As your pain diminishes, increase the weight by 1 pound as long as you can still do 15 reps each set. Do the exercises for at least 4 weeks.  However, do them for quite a bit longer if you want to be pain-free.

For a Speedy Recovery, See Your Physical Therapist

Tennis elbow can take a year or more to resolve on its own. In many people, their condition becomes chronic with exacerbations every few months.

Your physical therapist will prescribe the right exercises to meet your goals.  Also, physical therapists perform soft tissue and joint mobilization techniques to decrease your acute pain.  Call BSR and schedule an initial evaluation with your physical therapist.

How to Relieve Tennis Elbow Pain

Tennis elbow is a common condition that causes pain and weakness on the outside of your elbow.   It affects thousands of people with physically intense occupations like construction workers and carpenters.  However, it also affects many office workers at an equal rate.  A wide variety of treatments are recommended.  These include bracing, anti-inflammatory medication, shots, surgery, and exercise.  This article teaches you some of the best physical therapy exercises for tennis elbow pain.

Tennis elbow treatment
Tennis elbow pain is caused by irritation of the common extensor tendon

Tennis Elbow Prognosis

The prognosis of tennis elbow is good.   Pain typically resolves on its own within 1 year with no treatment at all.  However, the reoccurrence rate of this condition is almost 10 percent within 1 year.  You can help prevent this by addressing the root cause of the problem.

The treatments listed above address the area of pain at the elbow, however, the neck, shoulder, and wrist can also be the root cause of pain.  This is why many treatments are sometimes ineffective.  Bracing, drugs, shots, and surgery help address the pain, but will not cure the source of the problem if other areas are involved.

Physical Therapy Treatment Options 

Neck and Shoulder Treatments

Besides your elbow, there are 2 other regions of your body that contribute to elbow pain.  The first would be your neck.  Most people with tennis elbow also experience some neck pain.  This is often mild.  But similar to sciatica in your lower back and legs, there can be irritation of the nerves in your neck that leads to elbow pain.  Treatments directed at your elbow may help some, however, if the problem in your neck is not also addressed, your elbow pain will persist.

Another contributing factor is the health of your shoulder complex.  Strength and endurance deficits in your shoulder muscles place excessive stress on your elbow leading to pain.  Rowing exercises are one option that addresses these deficits.  Rotator cuff exercises are also recommended for anyone experiencing elbow pain.

Elbow Treatments

Several treatments directed at your elbow will also reduce your pain.  One of the most important things to do is strengthen your wrist extensors.  This will help you to better tolerate the daily activities or work demands that are contributing to your pain.  These exercises are typically painful at first, but your physical therapist will find the right exercises with minimal pain.

Research suggests eccentric exercises are the most beneficial.  The Tyler Twist exercise is one option that is helpful for many people we work with.

There may also be joint stiffness at your wrist or elbow contributing to pain.  Our therapists have advanced training in manual therapy and can find the proper manual treatment to address these areas if indicated.

Get Help from Your Physical Therapist

Most treatment approaches for elbow pain only address the pain and not the root cause of the pain.  Discerning tennis elbow from other conditions can be challenging.  Your physical therapist will work with you to identify all of the contributing areas. If you would like to avoid invasive treatments like shots or surgery, schedule an evaluation with your physical therapist today.