Last time, we started to talk about the injuries and issues that can occur in and around the elbow and forearm. We introduced lateral epicondylitis, or “tennis elbow,” as one of the most prevalent overuse/repetitive strain pathologies here. This and other conditions of pain and tightness in the elbow can arise when performing certain exercises and activities including but not limited to tennis. As promised, now it is time to gain a better understanding of why you may be having elbow problems and what strategies may help you to work through them.
Maybe you do have elbow pain playing tennis, or golf (“golfers elbow” is medial epicondylitis). Or maybe you experience pain in the elbows doing bodyweight training like pull-ups or pushups or hand balancing exercises like the handstand. With injury conditions at the elbows, the specific aggravating activity isn’t necessarily the problem. More often it’s a case of improper technique and a poor adaptive capacity of the soft tissue for the chosen volume and intensity of activity. This simply indicates that some additional preparatory training and a slower progression of the main activities may be necessary to keep your elbows healthy and able to adapt appropriately.
To this end, it is important to remember that no body part or joint acts in isolation, and the elbows are certainly no exception. There is an important interrelationship between the elbows, the wrists, the shoulders, and the neck.
If your wrists aren’t strong or mobile enough to handle pressure from hand balancing exercises or pressing movements, the elbows, as the next link in the chain, will often take more strain than they should. Similarly, if you are unable to put your shoulders into proper position for a particular exercise due to lack of shoulder girdle strength and mobility, undue stress may be transferred to the elbows. And because the nerves that supply the arm are made up of nerve roots that stem from the neck, if you have impaired neck function causing decreased nerve conduction, you may experience pain, discomfort, and decreased strength in any part of the arm, including the elbow. If you’ve struggled with elbow issues, working on improving your strength and mobility in these other joints might be a big part of the answer.
At the wrists, strengthening the actions of flexion, extension, and rotation (supination and pronation), along with strengthening your grip, will do a lot to precondition your elbows and increase their activity tolerance. Check out these exercises from the Boston Sports Medicine and Research Institute.
Shoulder Flossing is a great exercise for working shoulder mobility. Try using a towel or a blanket instead of a small strap. The added bulk will challenge your grip strength and wrist stability.
Matador Circles holding a blanket with wrists pronated will further strengthen your ability to keep your wrists strong in a neutral position (not breaking into flexion under weight) while also working shoulder strength and mobility.
To address problems with nerve conduction through the arm, here’s a good description and video from Physical Therapist “Doctor Jo” for neural flossing or nerve stretching.
And, finally, take a Pranic Bath to explore range of motion in the wrists, elbows, and shoulders. This move will stretch and strengthen muscles all along the chain from the shoulders to the hands.
These are just a few ways to prepare your elbows to work through current issues or avoid future ones. Practicing these exercises and techniques often just might help support your elbows and keep them healthy.