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4 Simple Tips for Bad Elbows

Today's blog comes from Physical Therapist and Owner of Altitude Physical Therapy, Jamie Morse. 

The elbow is both a delicate and intricate joint. 

It has a lot going on for a smaller area. 

In fact, there are 16 muscles that cross the joint making it easy for problems to arise. 

Think about how much we use our hands, wrists and lower and upper arms. These 16 muscles that attach at the elbow joint have actions from our hands to our shoulder. 

Because we use these muscles so much, they can easily get stiff and dense. 

This can transfer to pain at and around the elbow joint. In many cases, even though you may be experiencing pain at the elbow joint, the problem is the overly stiff muscles and tendons that attach to the elbow. 

Movements such as gripping and twisting aggravate symptoms (i.e. chin-ups, kettlebell cleans, ropes, racked carries) in addition to everyday activities (i.e. opening a jar, twisting a screwdriver, lifting a gallon of milk).

Addressing the symptoms early is significantly more beneficial for a successful long term outcome. Certainly eliminating or modifying the painful movement is the first important step towards a speedy recovery. Here are a few other things you can try on your own:

1| Self massage

Find that tender spot typically found on the outside of the elbow bone and provide deep manual friction massage or use a lacrosse ball to get into that tender tissue! Ouchie! Try for 3-5 min. 

2| Passive Stretching

Put your arm out straight with palm down and use the other hand to stretch it back towards you so you feel the top of your forearm stretching. Hold 5-10 seconds and do 10 times.

3| Lacrosse Ball Self-Mobilizations

Lean on a table or stool with a lacrosse ball pressing into a tender spot on your forearm and bend and straighten your wrist up and down 20 times. Move the ball slightly to find another tender spot and repeat 20 times. Repeat up/down your forearm.

Typically, folks have a tight or sore triceps along with elbow pain. Try to put the lacrosse ball above your elbow into a tender spot and bend and straighten your elbow this time. 20 passes over each tender spot. 



4| Proper rowing technique

If done incorrectly, both the row and chin-up is are two exercises that can really flare the elbows up.

This is mainly due to improper technique.

Both exercises are mainly posterior deltoid and lat exercises. 

Your lat especially  is one of the biggest strongest muscles in your body and we should take advantage of that during your rows in chin-ups. 

What happens with elbow pain is that instead of pulling the weight back in a row with your back or using your lats to pull yourself up to the bar in a chin-up, you end up using mainly your arms.

As you can see in the images above, the incorrect technique shows little to no movement through the shoulder blades and excessive arm movement, putting undue stress on your elbow.

The correct technique shows the movement coming through the upper back.

Think of initing your rowing or chin-up movement through your upper back by pulling your shoulder blades toward your spine (retraction) and then having the arm pull back until it is inline with the side of your body. 

Let me know how things go and get back to the things you love quickly and effectively!  

- Jamie Morse, PT, DPT

Owner, Altitude Physical Therapy, PLLC @ Dynamic Strength & Conditioning

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