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Simple Exercises for Elbow Bursitis

by Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT May 15, 2020 0 Comments

Woman Stretching arm

A selection of simple elbow bursitis exercises and stretches can be an effective way to manage the pain and swelling of this condition. Especially when used in conjunction with other treatments, they can speed recovery and make the process more manageable. Keep reading to learn more about the benefits of stretches and exercise for elbow bursitis.

How Exercise Helps Bursitis

Exercises that specifically address the elbow come in three primary forms including strengthening, stretching, and range of motion. Both options have a number of benefits for recovery, including:

  • Increased circulation to promote healing of the olecranon bursa
  • Muscular balance to enable better elbow function
  • Increased range of motion to allow for normal daily activities
  • Pain relief
  • Reduced swelling of the elbow bursa (if not overdone)
  • Decreased dependence on pain medications like ibuprofen
  • Improved quality of life 

Stretches

Addressing elbow flexibility will keep tissues more pliable to promote recovery and prevent further aggravation. Since the elbow only moves in two primary directions, stretching it is straightforward.

If you are having trouble tolerating these stretches or any other exercises for the elbow, you can try using a hot and cold pad, or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for better tolerance as needed.

Forearm Stretch

Muscles in the forearm can become stiff when the elbow is inflamed. To stretch these muscles, sit or stand with the affected arm out straight in front of you and the palm facing down toward the floor. Then use the opposite hand to gently bend the wrist down until a stretch is felt on the top of the forearm.

Hold 20-30 seconds for up to 5 repetitions. Do not force the stretch.

Tricep Stretch

Sitting or standing, bend your bursitis elbow as far as you can without pain. Then raise the elbow overhead with your hand as close to your ear as possible. Next, grab the tip of the elbow with the opposite arm and push the bursitis elbow backward until a stretch is felt along the entire back of the arm in the tricep.

Hold for 20-30 seconds for up to 10 repetitions. This one can be hard to tolerate if you have any shoulder issues.

Elbow Extension Self-Stretch

To specifically address any stiffness with elbow extension, sit with your feet flat on the floor. Place the top of your palm (on the affected side) on your thigh, near your knee. Then, grab the elbow with your opposite hand and gently pull the elbow. Slowly attempt to straighten the elbow as far as you can tolerate.

Hold 10-20 seconds for 10-15 repetitions. Do not force this stretch if it causes you any shoulder or elbow pain.

Strengthening Exercises

A strength routine is an essential part of any balanced exercise program. This is especially crucial when an injury occurs, as long as the right exercises are executed. The following exercises specifically address affected elbow muscles. 

Bicep Curl

While standing comfortably, hold a set of weights with your palms facing up. Keep good posture (with your neck relaxed, shoulders back, and your elbows at your side) as you bend the elbows and bring the palms toward the shoulders. Keep the movement slow and controlled, especially on the way back down. You can also try this exercise with a resistance band.

Repeat 15-20 times for 2-3 sets. Increase resistance as tolerated. Modify the weight if it is too painful or you can’t manage to maintain good form.

Bent-Over Row

Start by keeping a slight bend in the knees as you bend forward at the hips until your trunk is almost parallel with the floor. With your elbows bent and tucked into your side, squeeze your shoulder blades together as you bring the elbows behind you. Keep good posture with the spine relatively straight and shoulders relaxed throughout.

Repeat 15-20 repetitions for 2-3 sets.

Tricep Extensions

Get on your hands and knees. With a weight in one hand, start with your elbow bent and tucked into your side. Then, straighten the elbow joint behind you while keeping the upper arm still. If possible, completely extend the elbow before returning to the starting position.

Repeat 10-15 times on each arm for 2-3 sets. There are a lot of different tricep extension variations out there when you are ready to progress, such as tricep push-ups and overhead extensions.

Remember, wrist muscles are also at risk with elbow bursitis. Review our full resources on wrist pain exercises to address forearm strength and flexibility.

Range of Motion Exercises

Elbow range of motion helps address tissue extensibility and promote proper movement of the joint. Range of the motion exercises are a simple way for anyone to promote elbow healing.

Elbow Flexion

This simple exercise is designed specifically for those experiencing stiffness in the elbow. Start by sitting comfortably as you bend the elbow as far back as you can. If needed, you can use the opposite hand to apply overpressure to increase the intensity of the stretch. Avoid resting the elbow on a surface to prevent irritation.

Hold 10-20 seconds for up to 10 repetitions. Attempt to gradually increase your range of motion as tolerated.

Elbow Extension

This is another good option for those with elbow stiffness, or those who cannot extend their elbow fully. Sit sideways to a table with your elbow resting on the edge. You can place a small towel or elbow pad under the arm for cushioning. Then, let the elbow straighten as far as possible and hold. As you hold the position, you should be able to gradually increase the range of extension. If needed, you can apply gentle overpressure with the opposite hand as well.

Hold 20-30 seconds for 10-15 repetitions. If you are having trouble tolerating pressure to your elbow, you can try supporting your elbow with your hand instead.

Pronation and Supination

Pronation and supination are the small rotation movements in the forearm that allow us to turn our palm to face up or down. Stiffness with this motion also affects the elbow because of the close proximity to the elbow bursa. Begin by pressing your palms together and interlacing your fingers with the elbows at your sides. Then, rotate your hands back and forth, alternating which hand is on top. Keep the elbows still while rotating as far as you can tolerate in each direction.

Repeat 10-15 times for 2-3 sets.

Can Physical Therapy Help?

Seeking guidance from a physical therapist for any type of musculoskeletal condition can be helpful. Physical therapy sessions come with a range of unique benefits, that can aid the recovery from elbow bursitis.

  • Locate the problem
  • Identify causes, to help prevent the problem in the future
  • Provide customized treatment to promote healing including heat, TENs, light therapy, and ultrasound

For more general treatment ideas for elbow bursitis, check out our full resource.

Safe and Effective Elbow Bursitis Exercises

Recovering from elbow bursitis doesn’t have to be complicated. With the right health information, you can gain an understanding of the injury and get started with a good exercise program. This way, healing can be optimized and get you back to normal life. If you are unsure where to start, you can always seek advice from your healthcare provider or physical therapist.

SHOP ARM & ELBOW PRODUCTS

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Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT
Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT

JayDee Vykoukal is a Doctor of Physical Therapy, owner of the healthy habit platform Health Means Wealth, and freelance medical writer. She loves traveling and spending time with her family in nature. Her passion is helping others continue to participate in the activities they love through education and proper exercise.



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