Physical Therapy Exercises for Golfer's Elbow

Golfer's Elbow Exercise Program

Photo of a golfer holding his elbow.
Your PT can help you with your golfer's elbow exercise program.. Jeannot Olivet/Getty Images

If you have golfer's elbow, also known as medial epicondylitis, you may benefit from the skilled services of a physical therapist.  Your PT may use various treatments and modalities, such as iontophoresis or kinesiology taping, to help control your pain and improve your forearm function.  He or she may also prescribe a specific golfer's elbow exercise program to help improve your range of motion and strength.

Golfer's elbow is an irritation and inflammation of the common flexor tendons that help move your wrist.  These tendons arise from the medial epicondyle of your humerus near your elbow. Many of the exercises for golfer's elbow involve stretching or strengthening these muscles.

When the pain from golfer's elbow strikes, you should get started on a self-care treatment program.  This program should involve exercises to help improve the way your elbow, wrist, and shoulder move to allow your elbow and arm to function normally.

Follow this golfer's elbow step-by-step exercise program to get started working on your elbow pain.  Before starting this, or any other exercise program, be sure to check in with your doctor or physical therapist to ensure that exercise is safe for you to do for your specific condition.

Wrist Flexion and Extension Stretching

One of the first exercises you should do for golfer's elbow is wrist stretches to elongate the flexor and extensor tendons on either side of your wrist.  Here is how you do it:

  1. Stand with your painful arm directly out in front of you and extend your wrist so your fingers point towards the ceiling.
  2. Use your opposite hand to pull your palm and fingers a little further into extension while keeping your elbow straight.  You should feel a gentle stretch in your inner elbow.
  3. Hold the stretch for 15 to 30 seconds, and then relax.  Repeat the stretch 3 times. 
  4. Then, while holding your arm out straight, bend your fingers and hand down towards the floor until a stretch in felt on the outer side of your elbow.
  5. Hold the stretch for 15 to 30 seconds, and then relax.  Repeat the stretch 3 times.

You should feel a gentle pull in your elbow during the wrist flexion and extension stretches. If you feel increasing pain, stop and consult your doctor or physical therapist.  You should perform this stretching routine several times per day, and you can also do the stretches prior to starting any exercise or athletic program that requires upper extremity use.

Wrist and Forearm Strengthening

Improving the strength of the muscles that support your elbow and wrist may be an important part of your golfer's elbow exercise program.  You can use a dumbbell to strengthen your wrist flexor and extensor muscles, or an elastic resistance band may be used.

Strengthening exercises to work on include:

  • Wrist flexion
  • Wrist extension
  • Wrist pronation
  • Wrist supination

Perform each exercise with a manageable weight (usually about 3 to 5 pounds), and perform 1 to 2 sets of 10 to 15 repetitions.

In addition to strengthening the muscles around your wrist, your physical therapist may recommend you do biceps and triceps strengthening exercises for your golfer's elbow.  Simple exercises like biceps curls or triceps extensions may help.

Handgrip Exercises

Picture of the towel handgrip exercise.
The towel handgrip exercise is simple to do.. Brett Sears, PT, 2015

Golfer's elbow typically is worsened with gripping items tightly.  When the pain is acute and intense, you should avoid gripping things so tightly that it causes pain.   Once the pain has subsided a bit, you may want to start a progressive grip strengthening program to help improve that way your muscles work to grab things.

The towel handgrip exercise is a simple thing you can do to build your grip strength and tolerance to gripping.  To do this, simply roll up a towel and grab onto it.  Gently squeeze it for 5 seconds, and then relax.  Repeat the exercise 10 to 15 times, and stop if you start feeling worsening pain in your elbow.  

Your physical therapist may also have you work on grip strength in the clinic using a DigiFlex tool or by performing strengthening exercises with therapy putty.

Shoulder and Rotator Cuff Strengthening Exercises

One rule that physical therapists follow when treating golfer's elbow in the clinic is to assess your wrist and shoulder function.  Sometimes, tightness or weakness in your shoulder may be a variable that leads to inflammation to your medial elbow.

Maintaining strength in your rotator cuff muscles may be an important of your golfer's elbow exercise program.  A simple way to strengthen your rotator cuff muscles at home is by using a resistance band.  You can get one from your local PT or from a sporting goods store.

Be sure to focus on strengthening all 4 muscles of your rotator cuff by performing internal and extension rotation, abduction, and extension exercises for your shoulder.  Each exercise should be done 10 to 15 times for 1 to 2 sets.  Remember to stop if you feel increasing pain in your shoulder or elbow.

Scapular Stability for Golf

Working to strengthen and improve the muscular contraction around your shoulder blade should also be a part of your golfer's elbow exercise program.  Good scapular control can help lessen stress and strain in the muscles of your arm and elbow, and this can help take pressure off your elbow muscles.

Simple scapular stability exercises include:

  • Prone row
  • Prone Y, T, or Y exercises

These exercises should be performed once a day for 10 to 15 repetitions.  Again, stop and consult your physical therapist is the exercises cause any pain.

A well rounded exercise program for golfer's elbow includes a mix of stretching exercises and exercises to strength your wrist, forearm, elbow, and shoulder muscles.  You can do this exercise program as part of your golfer's elbow rehab, or the exercise program may be used in hopes of preventing problems with golfer's elbow.

Working to keep your arm strong and mobile may help you quickly and safely get back to pain-free activity if you are suffering from golfer's elbow.

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