Tennis elbow, known as lateral epicondylitis, isn’t always caused by playing tennis. It’s a repetitive arm motion that weakens the muscles and can degenerate them.
The good news is that it doesn’t cause long-term problems, it’s treatable, and surgery isn’t likely. There are several exercises that you can use to help it heal. On the other hand, some could make it worse.
So, is swimming good for tennis elbow? If tennis elbow was caused by swimming, then no, swimming will only get exacerbated the condition. If tennis elbow is a result of any other activity like golf or tennis, swimming could be therapeutic and worth including in the treatment program.
Here’s a look at which exercises are best to treat tennis elbow, what to avoid, and tips to get it healed as fast as possible.
- What Exercise Is Best for Tennis Elbow?
- What Exercises Can You Do While You Have Tennis Elbow?
- What Exercises Should You Avoid if You Have Tennis Elbow?
- What Activities Should You Avoid With Tennis Elbow?
- What Is the Fastest Way to Cure Tennis Elbow?
What Exercise Is Best for Tennis Elbow?
To determine the best exercise for healing tennis elbow, a person must identify what caused it and eliminate that activity. Tennis elbow can heal by itself but could take months to years. Some exercises can speed up this process.
Before embarking on a treatment program of exercise for tennis elbow, first consult with a medical professional.
Unlike tendonitis, tennis elbow isn’t torn muscles; they’ve degenerated. So jumping into a course of physical activities could cause more damage than good.
In the beginning, all you want to treat tennis elbow is heat, very mild stretching, and massage. Once the pain has subsided by at least 75%, you can move on to exercises.
Exercises You Should Do to Treat Tennis Elbow
If pain has reduced and you’ve been stretching and getting massages, you can introduce some of the following exercises into your recovery plan.
Wrist exercises can help improve tennis elbow. The reason to focus on the wrist is that it shares the burden with the elbow. You still want to exercise the elbow to help it heal, but not as an isolated exercise. Here are three, and I recommend doing them in this order: (Source)
1. Wrist Deviation
Place your forearm on a table with your wrist hanging over the edge, make a fist, and perform a downward hammering motion. You could do this with a light dumbbell, another household object, or your hand alone.
Wrist deviation is an excellent starting recovery exercise as it maintains a 50/50 partnership with your tennis elbow muscle and the opposite one, the flexor carpi radialis.
If this exercise doesn’t cause any pain, move on to the next one.
2. Wrist Supination
The setup is similar to wrist deviation, but instead of hammering, you turn your wrist in a locking/unlocking the door motion.
Wrist supination is an excellent exercise as the muscles around the affected elbow take a backseat. Your supinator muscle and your bicep are doing all the work here.
3. Wrist Extension
As this exercise will use the muscles around your elbow, only begin this one when you have zero pain in the affected area.
Hold your arms out in front and place a flex bar in your fists. Slowly twist the non-affected side forward and stabilize with the other. Rotate back with the non-affected side.
Swimming as a Treatment for Tennis Elbow
Once you’ve completed the course of therapy as detailed above, you could consider adding swimming to your plan. Remember, if swimming was the cause, it’s not advisable. While I’m not suggesting you go out and train for a triathlon, some slow laps could help.
The aim here is to use different muscles than the ones around the elbow that caused the repetitive injury in the first place. Changing the activity reduces the pattern of repetitive strain.
Keep in mind that cold, especially ice, isn’t a healing agent for tennis elbow. Swimming in the ocean may be too cold for the muscles and end up causing more trouble. A heated pool would be the best option. (Source)
What Exercises Can You Do While You Have Tennis Elbow?
Completely stopping exercise is unwise for anyone with tennis elbow. The injury is in a localized part of the body only. Lower body and cardio activities (that don’t use the elbow) can and should be continued.
Can I Run With Tennis Elbow?
Cardio exercise is excellent for healing the body as it promotes better blood circulation. Having tennis elbow shouldn’t stop you from running. However, this isn’t the time to set records or join a triathlon or iron man event.
Remember, many people run with bent elbows, so here are some things to try. (Source)
- Watch your form: maintain an upright posture, keep your shoulders down and relaxed, engage your core and keep your head up.
- Elbows: loosely bend them at about 90 degrees, don’t clench your fists, and hold your wrists in a neutral position.
- Slow down: use a natural, effortless swing from the shoulders; no vigorous arm pumping.
- Support: wear a strap or light brace for external support of the elbow.
What Can I Do at the Gym if I Have Tennis Elbow?
Lower-body, waist, hip, and leg workouts can also help with blood circulation, assisting with healing.
Avoid any activities that require using your arms, which may put added pressure on your elbows.
Here’s a closer look at the exercises and activities you need to avoid (for now).
What Exercises Should You Avoid if You Have Tennis Elbow?
The golden rule when treating tennis elbow is to cease the activity that may have caused it. Substitute that activity for another one so that different muscles are used, helping to heal and not to harm it further.
If the injury was caused by swimming, cease swimming; the same applies if it began during tennis or golf.
For obvious reasons, there are two absolute ‘must not’ exercises when you are recovering from tennis elbow. They are pushups, and chin-ups, as they all put extra strain on the elbow. (Source)
Pushups are designed to build shoulders, pectorals, and triceps. But what body part takes the most impact? Your elbows, as you repeatedly have to bend them.
Chin-ups require you to use your arms to lift your entire body weight. It places a lot of stress on the elbow tendons and requires repetitive action. Both are no-nos if you have tennis elbow.
What Activities Should You Avoid With Tennis Elbow?
It’s not just some gym or other exercises that need to be avoided when a person has tennis elbow. It’s a repetitive strain injury, so any other activity that requires repetition or elbow use can slow down the healing process, including:
- Repetitive hand and wrist movements like typing or sewing
- Using tools while working, such as plumbing or bricklaying
- DIY hand tools use like scissors, screwdrivers, or gardening shears
What Is the Fastest Way to Cure Tennis Elbow?
It may sound logical, but the fastest way to cure tennis elbow is to limit its use as much as possible. Any of the abovementioned activities should be avoided or at least significantly reduced. There are several other things you can do:
- Rest: the body does its best healing when you’re stationary.
- Pain relief: over the counter painkillers like ibuprofen or paracetamol can assist.
- Heat pack: applying a heat pack for 15 minutes can help recovery.
- Change it up: try to find other ways to use your arms and hands that don’t require using your elbow. (Source)
Tennis elbow isn’t a life disabler; diagnosed quickly enough, you can heal it. The easiest thing to do is avoid over-using the elbow muscles that have degenerated. Mixing up your activities, stopping the action or sport that caused it, and waiting it out are the best ways to deal with it.