Athletes

Elbow pain: how to restore elbow function

Elbow pain is a challenging and often debilitating ailment that affects a large percentage of the human population every year.

man playing tennis
Photo by Markus Spiske

Elbow pain is a challenging and often debilitating ailment that affects a large percentage of the human population. (1) The most common types of elbow pain manifest themselves in two forms: medial or lateral epicondylitis. In layman’s terms, medial epicondylitis of the elbow is often referred to as “golfer’s elbow”, while lateral epicondylitis is referred to as “tennis elbow.”

Both golfer’s elbow and tennis elbow refer to the respective tissues (muscle and tendons) that are used primarily during these sports and are most susceptible to chronic or acute overuse injury. Anatomically speaking, lateral epicondylitis or tennis elbow affects the common wrist “extensor” tendons on the outside of the elbow, while medial epicondylitis or golfer’s elbow affects the common wrist “flexor” tendon/muscles on the inside of the elbow (facing towards your body).

To understand the difference, you can do this quick exercise:

Reach your arms forward, elbows bent, start with palms facing up towards the sky, as if you were carrying a pizza in front of you.

From there, bend only at your wrists so your palms face towards you, like you’re carrying a box. This is known as wrist flexion.

Now do the opposite, bend at your wrists so your palms face away from you, this is known as wrist extension.

While you do this brief exercise, you may notice the muscles tighten in their respective places: on the inside (medial) section of the elbow during flexion, or on the outside (lateral) section for wrist extension.

Simply put, golfer’s elbow and tennis elbow are when these tissues become overloaded from misuse or overuse.

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Despite the names, athletes are not the only ones susceptible to these kinds of injuries. In fact, the majority of cases are experienced by the general and working populations of individuals aged 40 to 60. (1) New fathers and mothers (from carrying their children), desk workers, and particularly labourers are very susceptible to overuse of the common tendons used for wrist flexion and extension.

So, now we know that individuals (perhaps even you) may experience elbow pain due to overuse, how can we begin to approach restoring these tissues back to a healthy, pain-free state?

At Restore Human, we emphasize wrist and elbow strength through a variety of progressions of movement which include but are not limited to: joint articulation, isometric holds, crawls, pushing, and pulling exercises. 

Of course, while the complete progression of these movements may be the goal to work towards, first removing the mechanism of injury is an important step. If you are doing something that hurts, take a brief break before resuming! However, fear not, with proper rehabilitation, mobility, and strengthening, you can come back stronger than before.

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Manual therapy, gentle joint mobilization, and stretches provided by one of our licensed Kinesiologists or Physical Therapists, can provide the necessary means to cope with the discomfort of any of these injuries, providing the movement and time required to help the body recover.

From here, our Coaches can customize our unique and innovative Methodology to your specific needs, progressing to applying gentle force into the tissue, strengthening the joints in flexed, extended, and progressively dynamic positions while conditioning your body against future injury. This is an integral step to restoring the body back to a functioning and pain-free state.

(1) https://academic.oup.com/aje/article/164/11/1065/61970