Pain at the outside of the elbow, known as tennis elbow, and pain on the inside of the elbow, known as golfers elbow are common injuries. Risk factors for these injuries include smoking, obesity, age 45 to 54, and repetitive or frequent forceful movements of the arms. You may have pain with gripping, movements that require forceful wrist extension (bending back) or wrist flexion (bending down), twisting the arm, or stretching the wrist in extension (back) or flexion (down).
What can I do?
As much as you can, limit activities that cause elbow pain.
When doing your daily activities, keep your wrist in a neutral position (picture) as much as possible. A neutral wrist position means the wrist is not bent forward or back. In this position the muscles in the forearm can work more efficiently are at less risk for injury.
Begin gentle stretching.
With your elbow straight, use your other hand to bend the wrist down with your fingers closed. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds. Repeat the stretch 2 or 3 times each session, 3 or 4 sessions each day. Stretch to the point of tension but not pain.
With your elbow straight, use your other hand to bend the wrist back with your fingers open. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds. Repeat the stretch 2 or 3 times each session, 3 or 4 sessions each day. Stretch to the point of tension but not pain.
Ice is most effective for 48 to 72 hours following an injury. Apply ice to the painful area for 20 minutes at a time. Icing after exercise will be more effective than icing before exercise.
Anti-inflammatory medication may be helpful but talk to your doctor first.
A counter force brace is a strap that is placed around your forearm, about 4 inches below the elbow. Research into counter force bracing does not give a definite answer whether or not they help everyone and exactly how they help but many people find the braces helpful. It is thought that the brace helps reduce tension on the muscles of the forearm, allowing the elbow to heal. The brace should only be used for the first few weeks (approximately 6) following injury or during a flareup.
See your doctor if your elbow pain continues to get worse, does not improve after a few weeks of treatment, or you start to get new symptoms such as weakness or numbness or tingling in the arm.
My arm pain is improving. What can I do now?
Slowly return to your usual activities depending on how your elbow reacts. If your pain continues to improve then continue to resume activities. If your elbow pain stops improving or gets worse than decrease your activities again. The activities that are most likely to aggrevate your elbow are repetitive, forceful, twisting, and gripping activities.
- Continue using the brace, gradually wearing it less time each day.
- Continue with the stretches.
- Begin strengthening exercises:
- Eccentric wrist extension (tennis elbow)
- Eccentric wrist flexion (golfers elbow)
My elbow pain is gone!
How can I prevent injuries in the future?
Continue with your stretches as part of a general flexibility routine.
Continue with resistance training for your wrist and arms.
Pay attention to maintaining a neutral wrist position for work, sports, and exercise activities.
Pay attention to proper technique for any forceful or repetitive activity.