6 exercises to improve tennis elbow

tennis sport

Tennis elbow, otherwise known as lateral epicondylitis, is an overuse injury resulting from repetitive motions and activity. The tendons in the elbow become overloaded, and the muscles of the forearm that attach to the elbow become inflamed or irritated. 

Tennis elbow is a common ailment among people involved in racquet sports, but it can also result from workplace injuries involving repetitive movements. It can be common in some occupations, such as among plumbers, painters, cooks and carpenters. 

Symptoms of tennis elbow include a weak grip, pain and burning on the outside of the elbow, and swelling. The pain may also radiate through the forearm or upper arm. You’ll likely notice the pain when doing things with your hands. If left untreated, tennis elbow can becoming more debilitating requiring steroid injections, PRP injections or surgery. 

In order to treat tennis elbow, you should relatively rest the irritated tendons and muscles, and allow the inflammation to settle. The use of ice and compression are useful at this stage. Once the inflammation subsides, you can start gentle strengthening exercises. But wait! Tennis elbow? Golfer’s elbow? Finally help! There are new braces on the market that are showing promise in reducing the strain as well.

Make sure you seek advice from your local Como physiotherapist prior to starting therapy exercises. Once you’re given the all-clear, some simple exercises can help you on your road to rehabilitation and recovery from tennis elbow. 

Wrist turn

This is a gentle exercise for when your pain is very acute that focuses on the muscles surrounding the wrist. 

  1. Bend the elbow at a right angle
  2. Start with the palm facing up
  3. Slowly twist the wrist as far as you can until the palm is facing down
  4. Hold for 5 seconds
  5. In total, complete 3 sets of 10 repetitions

If you’ve been given the all-clear from your physio, you can add weight to this exercise. For example, hold a small dumbbell or tin of food as you complete the exercise. 

Fist clench

This exercise aims to improve the poor grip strength that can result from tennis elbow. It aims to build strength in the muscles of the forearm. 

  1. Rest your forearm on a table as you are seated
  2. With palm facing up, place a small ball or rolled up towel in your hand
  3. Squeeze the towel or ball, and hold for 10 seconds
  4. Release and repeat for 10 repetitions 

Wrist extension 

This movement focuses on strengthening the wrist extensors, the muscles responsible for bending the wrist. 

  1. Sit on a chair and rest your elbow on your knee. Hold a small dumbbell in your hand with your palm facing down
  2. Extend the wrist by curling it upwards towards your body, ensuring your palm remains facing down 
  3. Return to starting position, and complete 10 repetitions

Note: if this exercise is too challenging to begin with, try it without the weight. Your arm should remain still, isolating the movement to the wrist. 


Wrist flexion

This is essentially the opposite movement to the one above, used to strengthen the wrist flexors that work opposite to the wrist extensors. 

  1. Sit on a chair and rest your elbow on your knee. Hold a small dumbbell in your hand with the palm facing upwards
  2. Flex your wrist by curling it upwards towards your body, ensuring your palm remains facing up throughout the movement
  3. Return to starting position, and complete 10 repetitions 

Again, if this is too challenging, try it without the weight. Make sure you are isolating the movement through your wrist while keeping the rest of your arm still. 

Wrist flexor stretch

Another exercise to focus on the wrist muscles, without added weight. 

  1. Raise the arm straight out in front of the body
  2. Begin with the palm facing down, and slowly bend the wrist to bring your hand upwards facing out like a hand stop signal
  3. Use your other hand to gently pull the fingers back towards the body 
  4. Hold the position for 15 to 30 seconds 
  5. Straighten the wrist again 
  6. In total, complete 3 sets of 3 repetitions 

Towel twist

This exercise focuses on both the wrist flexors and extensors. 

  1. Sit on a chair and relax your shoulders. Hold a loosely rolled towel in both hands. 
  2. Twist the towel in both hands in opposite directions, as if wringing out water. 
  3. Complete 10 repetitions, then another 10 in the opposite direction 

Other notes on treating tennis elbow 

Make sure you only start physical therapy as treatment for your tennis elbow on the advice of a physiotherapist. It is important to begin your physical therapy when inflammation and swelling is present, but be cautious or you could make the condition worse. 

Ice and rest are the best course of action when your tennis elbow flares up causing inflammation and swelling. If you experience pain following your exercises, ice the painful area and consult your physio to ensure you’re completing the exercises properly. 

Avoid repetitive motions in your daily activities that aggravate your tennis elbow. Changing the way you complete daily tasks can reduce your symptoms and your chance of causing further inflammation. 

The best way to avoid further irritation and surgery to remedy your tennis elbow is to acknowledge your pain, avoid repetitive motions that cause pain, and find a qualified physio for tennis elbow. Strengthening the surrounding muscles is a great way of avoiding further complications in the future.