Tennis elbow, or lateral epicondylitis, is a repetitive stress injury that occurs in the muscles and tendons on the outside of the elbow. Tennis elbow injuries typically occur from athletic or everyday activities that overwork the muscles of the wrist and arm and can lead to chronic pain if left untreated. Although you can generally gauge which exercises you should or shouldn’t do based on the pain they cause to your arm, stretches and exercises can be potentially beneficial in rehabilitating your tendons.
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Lateral epicondylitis commonly occurs in newer tennis players using improper technique when executing a one-handed backhand. Although tennis elbow cases occur most frequently in tennis players, athletes such as golfers and swimmers are also at risk of spraining the lateral aspect of their elbow muscles. The pain caused by tennis elbow generally radiates from the outside of your elbow down to your forearm and wrist and can cause discomfort or weakness when performing activities such as shaking hands, turning a doorknob or holding a coffee cup.
Everyday activities and arm motions can also agitate symptoms and prolong recovery. Arm motions such as painting, screw driving, food slicing and preparation and excessive computer use are all possible causes of tennis elbow and can cause setbacks for tendon healing.
You should avoid an exercise if it causes sharp or shooting pain. Strength training and bodyweight exercises such as chin-ups, pushups and bench pressing all put strain on the elbow flexors and can lead to agitation in the lateral tendons of the elbow. Wrist exercises, such as forearm dumbbell curls and barbell extensions, can also stress the forearm and elbow, worsening the tennis elbow injury and potentially causing chronic pain. For best results, cut out any lifting exercise that relies on repetitive motions of your elbow or wrist and perform as few repetitions as possible.
Before committing your muscles to rehabilitation exercises, focus on decreasing the inflammation and pain of your elbow. During the acute stage of injury, exercise the elbow as little as possible to allow the tissues of your tendons to begin to heal. Talk to your doctor, coach or physical therapist before beginning any strenuous exercise that may agitate the affected area.