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How to Treat Golfer's Elbow with Exercises

by Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT June 23, 2021 0 Comments

Woman golfer elbow exercise

Golfer's elbow, also known as medial epicondylitis, affects the muscles of the forearm that connect to the inside of the elbow. These inflamed and sore muscles are what help the wrist and fingers bend (flex). If you’re dealing with a case of golfer’s elbow, exercises are a great way to strengthen muscles, reduce pain and prevent symptoms. Since a sore elbow can limit more than just your golf swing, start these wrist and elbow exercises today.

Wrist Exercises

Strengthening the wrist muscles has many benefits when dealing with golfer’s elbow. Firstly, extra blood flow to affected muscles will help with the healing process and decreasing elbow pain. Plus, they can help restore balance, reduce inflammation, and boost your confidence in your wrist. Knowing where to start and how much to do depends on the severity of your symptoms and how it feels when you try a specific move.

For a demonstration of each of the following exercises below, watch this video here

Wrist Flexion

You should start with each of these wrist exercises without weight. Then, gradually build to weight with a dumbbell (1 lb.) or resistance band. This exercise specifically targets the muscles and tendons that are sore with golfer’s elbow.

  • Sit comfortably in a chair with the arm you will be working (the affected arm) near a stool or table for propping
  • If you don’t have a stool or table, you can also prop your arm on your knee if needed
  • Place your forearm on the table with the palm facing up and the wrist and hand free to move
  • Tuck your fingers into a gentle fist, if tolerated (otherwise leave the fingers relaxed), and bring the palm up toward the ceiling as you bend the wrist 
  • Move the wrist as far as is tolerable before returning to the starting position
  • Keep the move slow and controlled in both directions
  • Repeat for 10-15 repetitions for 2-3 set total

Wrist Extension

This strengthening exercise addresses the muscles opposite of the sore wrist flexor muscles. It will help keep your wrist balanced. Plus, you will probably feel a gentle wrist flexor stretch, which is beneficial too.

  • Sit comfortably in a chair with the arm you will be working (the affected arm) near a stool or table for propping
  • Face your palm down toward the floor 
  • Keep the fingers relaxed as you bring the entire hand up toward the ceiling into an extension
  • Move slow and with control within a range that is comfortable for your wrist
  • If needed, reduce strain to the front of the wrist by flexing the fingers into a light fist
  • Repeat for 10-15 repetitions for 2-3 sets total
  • Add weight or a resistance band when ready

Wrist Pronation and Supination

An essential movement of the wrist is rotation, known as pronation and supination. This movement gives your wrist and hands a lot of versatility for daily tasks. These muscles can also get stiff and sore with golfer’s elbow, particularly the supinators.

  • Sit again with the same set up as the last two exercises, ensuring the wrist had room to rotate and move uninhibited 
  • Start with the thumb pointing up toward the ceiling
  • Keep the hand and upper arm relaxed (and elbow still) as you turn the wrist to bring the palm up toward the ceiling
  • Go as far as is tolerated and hold for 1-2 seconds
  • Next, begin rotating the wrist in the opposite direction so that the palm is facing down toward the floor
  • Go as far as is possible again and hold for another 1-2 seconds
  • Slowly rotate back and forth between these two positions
  • Repeat for 10-15 repetitions for 2-3 sets
  • Hold a light dumbbell or hammer when you’re ready to progress

Wrist Radial Deviation

The last essential direction that the wrist can move into is from side to side, known as radial and ulnar deviation. Specifically, radial deviation is an easy move that can be done to promote good overall wrist health and strength. This move is very small and subtle.

  • Set up your wrist one last time as above, so that it can move freely
  • Again, the thumb is pointing up toward the ceiling
  • Hold the hand in a loose fist
  • Then, bring the thumb side of the wrist up toward the ceiling while keeping the forearm resting on the table or stool
  • Go as high as possible without pain or movement in the elbow and upper arm
  • Move in and out of this position slowly
  • Repeat for 10-15 repetitions for 2-3 sets
  • Add weight or resistance as needed

Elbow Exercises

While the muscles that bend and straighten the elbow aren’t directly affected with golfer’s elbow, they connect to the elbow in very close proximity to the affected areas. Plus, they can get stiff and sore secondary to general inflammation in the elbow. Thus, some basic elbow exercises can be beneficial with your elbow rehabilitation.

Bicep Curl

The bicep muscles are a large muscle group that provides a lot of power and strength to the elbow and shoulder. Weakness or stiffness in the biceps can exacerbate forearm pain. A basic bicep curl can help.

  • Grab some light to medium dumbbells or a resistance band (starting lighter is better to prevent aggravation)
  • For a resistance band, stand on it with both legs and hold onto each end with one hand
  • Keep good posture, tighten the abs, and keep your elbows tucked into your side
  • Bend the elbows as you bring the palms up toward your shoulders
  • Continue as far as is comfortable
  • Repeat for 10-15 repetitions for 2-3 sets
  • Increase repetitions and resistance as needed, always focusing on keeping good form

Tricep Extension in Supine

The triceps also provide innate elbow stability that can affect overall function. Keeping these muscles in the back of the upper arm can also be beneficial for overall elbow health.

  • Lie on your back with light to medium weights
  • Bend the knees with the feet flat on the floor for stability
  • Holding the weights, bring both of your arms straight out in front of you until the shoulders are at 90 degrees and the elbow are straight
  • From here, keep the upper arm completely still as you let the weight fall toward the floor above your head by bending the elbows, focusing on keeping control throughout 
  • Go as far as is comfortable with your elbow flexion range of motion before returning to the starting position
  • Repeat 10-15 times for 2-3 sets total

Helpful Tools

When it comes to optimal wrist, forearm, and elbow strengthening, having a few tools on hand can help boost your results.

Resistance bands

Resistance bands are a versatile way to strengthen your arms. A lighter resistance is typically best for the wrist and forearm. Whereas, you will want medium to heavy bands for the elbows and shoulders. The most important concept with bands is understanding how to set up the angle of your band to correctly target each muscle group you want to address. A resistance band takes up little room and can even accompany you on a trip so that you don’t miss a strengthening day.

Choosing the Best Resistance Bands

Grip Strengtheners

A grip strengthening device can also improve the outcomes of your wrist, forearm, and elbow rehab program. There are a variety of options depending on your goals, preferences, and what muscles you want to primarily target. The most popular options include putty for its versatility or a simple gripping ball or pillow (aka a stress ball). Daily hand and wrist strengthening with these tools can be done anywhere and can help you feel your best.

Different Types of Grip Strengtheners

Hand Weights

Light dumbbells (1-2 lbs.) or velcro wrist and ankle weights are great tools when your forearm muscles are able to tolerate more resistance. Since the forearm muscles are small, it’s important to keep the weight light. Always start with low weight for your forearm, you can always add more weight as you feel comfortable.

Exercises to Avoid with Golfer’s Elbow

How golfer’s elbow affects your life will depend on the severity of your symptoms and what daily activities you normally participate in. While there are no hard rules on what to avoid, certain moves can certainly be more aggravating to the elbow. These rules generally apply to both golfer’s elbow and tennis elbow (also known as lateral epicondylitis). Exercises to consider avoiding include:

  • Tight gripping, such as with weights, driving, and writing
  • Elbow overuse and repetitive gripping, such as with rock climbing, golfing, throwing, racquet sports, or weight lifting
  • Heavy upper body lifting
  • Movements that specifically strain the elbow, such as with push-ups and pull-ups
  • Anything that is aggravating to the forearm and elbow

Tips for Best Results

Now that you know what strengthening exercises can help elevate your elbow health, let’s review other ways to maximize your recovery process.

  • Pair your exercise program with other home treatment options to manage pain, inflammation, and proper healing

  • If you’re having trouble tolerating exercise, try using pain-relieving modalities before and after- such as ice, heat, massage, and electrical stimulation (TENs)

  • Prior to starting any strengthening, always warm up the wrist and elbow with stretches first

    Stretches for Golfer’s Elbow

  • For additional elbow support, try taping or bracing

    How to Tape for Golfer’s Elbow

  • To minimize strain to the elbow, ensure that you’re sleeping position is encouraging healing rather than aggravating it.

    Sleeping with Golfer’s Elbow

  • To maximize your strength program, focus on the eccentric or “lengthening” portion of each movement, as this had been found to help significantly with tendon healing

  • If you’re feeling unsure of where to start with your program or you’re not getting the results you expected, consider a round of physical therapy for a personalized treatment program

Relieving Golfer’s Elbow

Golfer’s elbow can be well managed with a properly designed home exercise program. Finding the right balance of exercises can keep your muscles stay healthy and free of unnecessary strain. The most important part is getting started, and you will notice results with time. That way you can get back to your favorite activities like golfing.

If you notice a sudden change in the severity of your symptoms, they aren’t getting better within 1 to 2 weeks, or you notice a change in your quality of life, get in contact with a trusted healthcare professional, such as a physical therapist, immediately for further medical advice.

Sources:

https://bodyinbalance.com/1203/working-out-with-tennis-elbow/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK507006/

https://myhealth.alberta.ca/Health/aftercareinformation/pages/conditions.aspx?hwid=av2582

SHOP Golfer's Elbow

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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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