4 best tennis elbow exercises to relieve elbow pain

Joint Health

by Bradley Teel, MD

Apr 8, 2024

If you’re experiencing pain on the outside of your elbow, you might be dealing with a case of tennis elbow. Not a tennis player, you say? Ironically, tennis elbow pain more commonly affects people who don’t play tennis at all.

Tennis elbow (more formally known as lateral epicondylitis) is caused by repetitive overuse of the muscles and tendons that attach to the outside of the elbow and allow you to straighten or extend your wrist.

Overuse and repetitive microtrauma can eventually cause the cells of the tendons themselves to change and become more susceptible to injury. Over time, this leads to elbow pain and can make performing simple daily activities difficult.

Although roughly 50% of tennis players will experience tennis elbow at some point in their career, most cases affect the general population in their 40-50s, especially those who use heavy tools or perform repetitive lifting and gripping movements.

Best exercises for tennis elbow pain

Maintaining strength and flexibility, as well as allowing proper recovery, are considered the first line for prevention—for many injuries, including tennis elbow. For athletes specifically, make sure you use proper form and appropriately fitted equipment and racquets to avoid overloading the tendons on the outside of the elbow.

Stretching and strengthening are also the best ways to treat tennis elbow once you’re already experiencing pain. Although very rarely surgery may be required, the vast majority of people with tennis elbow will find significant relief with the appropriate physical therapy.

Here are a few effective exercises you can do at home to relieve and prevent tennis elbow pain.

1. Tyler Twist

My favorite exercises involve eccentric strengthening (which occurs while the muscle is slowly lengthening) with an exercise bar. Multiple studies have shown this to be one of the most efficient methods for relieving tennis elbow.

If you’re experiencing pain from tennis elbow, give this exercise a try.

2. Kettlebell swing (both arms)

The next few exercises involve kettlebell swings. Make sure you have plenty of space in front of and behind you before you get started. Proper form is key here to make sure you’re not putting too much stress on your elbow, so be sure and watch these videos first.

The first kettlebell variation I recommend uses both arms with the kettlebell in front of your body. This video demonstrates it.

3. Single-arm kettlebell swing

You can also perform kettlebell swings using one arm at a time. Unilateral exercises are a great way to pinpoint weaknesses in one side of the body that you might not be aware of.

4. Cheat lateral raise

The last exercise that can be helpful for strengthening your muscles to prevent elbow pain is the cheat lateral raise. You’ll perform it like a traditional lateral raise, but the “cheat” modification helps recruit your lower body to assist with loading, so you may be able to use a heavier weight without experiencing elbow pain.

What to do if your tennis elbow pain won’t go away

Stretching and strengthening is the most important thing you can do to begin relieving the underlying problem to fix your tennis elbow pain. But if you’re experiencing tennis elbow, you’ll also want to rest and avoid activities that cause pain (such as gripping and lifting heavy objects).

You can also take oral anti-inflammatory medications, which usually provide temporary relief from elbow pain associated with tennis elbow. There are several braces that provide compression on the outside of the elbow and can help with symptoms as well.

Tennis elbow is extremely common and can usually be addressed at home with the proper exercises. However, if your symptoms persist or worsen, an orthopedic specialist can help confirm there’s not a more serious injury at play and help you tailor the treatment plan to expedite your recovery.

Occasionally, tennis elbow can take weeks or months to treat, in which case steroid or platelet-rich plasma injections can be helpful.

The most important factor is beginning a rehab program to stretch and strengthen the tendons themselves, which will prepare these structures to bear load and become less susceptible to repetitive injury. Ideally, this will help prevent recurrence of tennis elbow in the future.

Elbow pain that just won’t quit? Find an orthopedic specialist near you to get relief today.

About the Author

Bradley Teel, MD is an orthopedic surgeon on the medical staff at Baylor Scott & White Orthopedic Associates of Dallas – Grapevine.

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