Elbow Range of Motion Exercises

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Starting Elbow Range of Motion Exercises

Photo of woman with elbow pain working with her PT.
Your physical therapist can help you improve your elbow range of motion. BSIP/UIG/ Getty Images

If you have elbow pain or an injury to your elbow, wrist, or shoulder, you may benefit from  physical therapy to help improve your ability to use your arm normally without pain. Your physical therapist will work with you to develop a plan of care to help you return to your previous level of function.

Although therapeutic modalities like electrical stimulation and ultrasound may be used by your PT during your elbow rehab, exercise should be the mainstay in your PT program. Your physical therapist will likely develop a home exercise program for you to do to improve your elbow range of motion (ROM) and strength so you can get back to normal use of your arm.

Elbow range of motion exercises may be one component of your PT program. They are simple to do and can help you move your wrist and hand, elbow, and shoulder normally again.

Conditions that may require you to perform elbow range of motion exercises may include:

Here is a step-by-step exercise program that your physical therapist may prescribe for you to improve your elbow range of motion. The exercises can be done daily as part of an elbow rehabilitation program. Before starting this, or any other exercise program, check in with your doctor to ensure that exercise is safe for your specific condition.

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Get it Bending: Elbow Flexion

Elbow flexion refers to your ability to bend your elbow. To improve your elbow flexion ROM, stand with your arm at your side. Actively bend your elbow up as far as possible, then grasp your forearm or wrist with your other hand and gently add overpressure. Hold the bent position of your elbow for 5 to 10 seconds, and then release the stretch by straightening your elbow. Repeat the exercise 10 times.

Next up: Elbow extension ROM.

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Straighten it Out: Elbow Extension

To improve your ability to fully straighten your elbow, you must work on elbow extension ROM exercises. To do this, sit in a chair with your elbow resting on a table. You may want to rest your upper arm on a pillow or folded towel for comfort.

Straighten your elbow out all the way, and then apply pressure to your forearm or wrist to add overpressure to the stretch. Straighten your elbow out as far as you can with overpressure, and hold the stretch for 5 to 10 seconds. Release the stretch and allow your elbow to bend a bit. 

Repeat the exercise for 10 repetitions, and then move on to the next elbow ROM exercise.

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Turn it Over: Forearm Supination

The ability to turn your wrist over so your hand faces up is called supination, and this motion occurs at both your elbow and at your wrist joint. To improve your ability to supinate your hand, perform the forearm supination ROM exercise.

To do the exercise, stand or sit with your arm at your side and your elbow bent about 90 degrees. Keep your elbow at your side and turn your wrist and hand over so your palm faces up.

To add overpressure to the stretch, use your opposite hand and reach underneath the forearm of your supinated arm. Grab your wrist and gently add overpressure by turning your hand further into supination. When a stretch is felt, hold the position for 5 to 10 seconds.

Repeat elbow supination ROM for 10 repetitions, and then move on to the final exercise.

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Forearm and Elbow Pronation

Forearm pronation refers to your ability to turn your hand over so your palm faces the floor. This motion is extremely important in performing tasks such as pouring a cup of coffee or playing the piano.

To perform the forearm pronation ROM stretch, stand or sit with your elbow bent 90 degrees and tucked in at your side. Turn your hand and wrist over as far as possible, and then reach your other hand over the top of your forearm. Grab your wrist, and turn your arm further into a pronated position. Hold the position with overpressure for 5 to 10 seconds, and then release the stretch. Repeat the pronation ROM stretch 10 times.

Elbow ROM exercises can be performed 2 to 3 times per day or as often as prescribed by your physical therapist or doctor. You should feel a slight stretch as you perform each of the elbow ROM exercises; if any exercise causes an increase in pain, though, you must consult your doctor.

Once you improve your elbow ROM with these exercises, your PT may then prescribe strengthening exercises. These may include hand gripping exercises with a towel, the DigiFlex, or with therapy putty. You may also start to work on forearm strengthening with a dumbbell, and biceps and triceps strengthening may be required to help strengthen the muscles around your elbow and arm.

Performing elbow range of motion exercises may be an important component of your rehab after an upper extremity injury that limits your ability to use your arm normally. Check in with your doctor, and then try these exercises to help improve your elbow ROM and get back to your normal level of activity and function.

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