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 what may be causing your elbow and forearm pain 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.
I love that the author is a Yoga Tune Up enthusiast without necessarily being an instructor. ( Of course she is an instructor of life, and all those she meets. ) Back to the blog … I work with a lot of people that do very heavy work with their arms and hands using lots of tools including vibration tools. I think this concept is so important that you can’t just focus on the wrist, you have to focus on grip, wrists, elbows shoulders, neck and even hips (n order to support arm work in extended
I was just searching for some suggestions on how to eliminate forearm and elbow pain as two of my clients have been complaining about this very issue. Although they’ve been able to manage the pain somewhat, it’s great to learn of some exercises to provide them with that could hopefully eliminate the problem altogether. Thanks for this wonderful article!
Thanks Mandy. I have some forearm and elbow issues and have been having a tough time training chin ups. It’s one of the things that brought me to a Yoga Tune Up class recently. I was hooked 🙂 Will try out some of your suggestions!
Love learning the Matador Circles, will be adding this into my yoga classes that have golfers and tennis players in them. I had “golfer’s elbow” and an extended forearm issue also from golf that I rolled out with the Tune Up Balls over many months. Took a while, but consistent work finally got me back to normal.
Thanks for sharing these exercises. I am dealing with some forearm tightness from caring for an infant… and since it is not possible for me to slowly add load slower than the weight gain of my baby, these exercises will be great to boost my arm chain strength. I will add these to my routine.
I see this in students all the time, they need to gain more mobility in their shoulders and elbows to fully participate in certain hand weight bearing poses. having just run through these shoulder mobility exercises was terrific, shoulders felt open and mobile. Thanks great article.
Loved to theses in action!
A great reminder to work on both the strength and mobility of the shoulder girdle instead of blindly doing many push ups or hand balancing exercise on shoulders lacking strength and mobility that put repetitive strain on the joints on the wrist and elbows.
Thank you for detailing the relationship joints have to each other, here specifically the significance of the neck, shoulder and wrist will have on the elbow. Also great that you mention nerve conduction with this clip and relevant exercises; thank you!
Lots of great information! Your follow up blog on interconnected upstream and down stream issues related to pain is very insightful. Having some C5-6 disc problems, I can attest that neck and shoulder posture is key. Love Dr. Jo’s Bird Man Ulnar nerve stretch. Ive started using the Pranic Breath in my daily routine and it makes a huge difference in my range of motion.
Great follow up article. I like how you reminded us of the kinetic chain from wrist to elbow translates to the shoulder and to address the joints and muscles along the whole chain to make a greater impact or improvement. Great movement clips too! =:0)
Great information. As outdoor tennis league season begins I will keep these in mind. I must read up and learn more about nerve conduction. Thanks!
This was a great read! I’ve had forearm/elbow pain for years now and no matter how often I asked my massage therapist to work in there, it helped a bit but would always come back! I’m excited to hear that the problem may be from somewhere else entirely! I’m looking forward to trying all these exercises!
Thanks for sharing the link to wrist exercises and the Yoga Tune Up® shoulder videos! I love the idea of strengthening and mobilizing both the wrist and the shoulder to protect the elbow.
Elbow pain is so common in my clientele, thanks for some additional exercises to try in order to bring some relief. It is so true about the sudden increase in volume bringing these kinds of things on.
Thank you, Mandy!
I have a student that comes to class with wrist/elbow/shoulder pain and I’m always searching for new ways to communicate the idea that ‘it’s all connected.’
This sentence in particular was greatly inspiring:
“To this end, it is important to remember that no body part or joint acts in isolation…” Simple and so profound! I will definitely share with my classes.
Mandy-Thank you, Thank you for this article! My husband’s elbow has been bothering him so I recommended he roll his neck and shoulders. He has a significant anterior head carriage (I think from his days in the military) tight shoulders and lifts weights. My effort to convince him paid off and your article definitely helped…at this moment he is a happy camper with his head propped on the balls!
I’ve had a client who has been dealing with tennis elbow for months! We’ve tried so many different exercise and rest techniques and nothing seems to be working. We just “manage” the discomfort for a while, but it always comes back.This is a great post on a better way to approach the situation. Especially because I know his shoulders don’t have the best R.O.M. I never thought to look at other joints – just the muscles upstream and downstream his elbow. And in our training we just covered pranic bath yesterday and I loved it. Perfect timing. Thank you!!
Thanks for offering a big picture view on a common problem.
Wow I forgot about the nerve connections in the neck and how weak wrists could be such a factor in this issue with the elbows. So helpful! Thank you for the advice, can’t wait to pass it along to my students.
Thank you for the informative article. As a person who suffers from many of the issues listed, these exercises will definitely be added to my regime.
We tend to focus on the bigger joints like shoulders, knees and hips and neglect our elbows until the elbows speak up through pain or discomfort. The exercises are good to integrate to keep our elbows happy. I have had some elbow complaints due to arm balances and through the ulna nerve flossing exercise, I noticed that there is some tightness and lack of mobility. Thanks for sharing!
Thank you for this post. My mother has been complaining of elbow discomfort (avid golfer), so I will happily pass this information on to her. Just a great reminder that everything is so connected!
The wrist-elbow-shoulder-neck connection is so important for pain relief and proper form in Pilates, Yoga, and even in working at a desk. This post is a great reminder that we need to properly align (organize) all links in the chain before doing weight bearing work. Otherwise, we might be doing more harm than good.
I find this post thorough and helpful for me to harness the inter-contextual effectiveness of how YTU approaches looking at a specific issue such as tennis elbow.
This post sets up the context grid clearly for me in a way that I understand. I appreciate the detailed examples as to what may be irritating the elbow as well as the basic explanation as to what is happening when irritated. It gets me thinking about how this pertains to me specifically and I see how it draws me in to care to even look further into the subject.
The wrist – elbow – neck relationship helps me see how YTU treats one spot from a more global perspective.
The nerve flossing video was really useful, i had wrist problems after years of combat sports, i thought they were healed but i noticed a lack of mobility in those exercises, another person to follow on youtube, thanks.
Fantastic and informative post. So easy to get hyper focused on one part of the body, forgetting all the connection and supports the other parts make up.
As an RMT I often get focused on my elbow discomfort this is a great reminder to widen my perspective.
Great resources! I already love the Yoga Tune Up exercises, but I love the video with the nerve flossing exercises as I often feel some irritation when I do certain movements. Definitely something I can add to my repertoire.