Tennis elbow is also known as lateral epicondylitis. It occurs when a person strains the tendons in their forearm. People can usually treat tennis elbow at home with rest and over-the-counter medication. Doing specific exercises can also help ease the pain and prevent reoccurrence.

We describe eight exercises to help strengthen muscles in the forearm and prevent tennis elbow from coming back. We also cover causes and symptoms, home treatment, prevention, and when to see a doctor.

Before trying these exercises, wait for any swelling to go down. It is also a good idea to check with a doctor or a physical or occupational therapist first.

The following exercises can help rehabilitate tennis elbow:

1. Wrist turn

To perform a wrist turn:

  • bend the elbow at a right angle
  • extend the hand outwards, palm facing up
  • twist the wrist around gradually, until the palm is facing down
  • hold the position for 5 seconds
  • repeat nine more times
  • do two more sets of 10 repetitions

2. Wrist turn with weight

The wrist turn with weight is the same as the wrist turn above. But, in this version, the person also grips a light weight, such as a small dumbbell or a tin of food.

3. Wrist lift, palm up

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To perform a wrist lift, palm up:

  • grip a light weight, such as a small dumbbell or a tin of food
  • bend the elbow at a right angle
  • extend the hand outwards, palm facing up
  • bend the wrist up towards the body
  • hold this position for 5 seconds, then release slowly
  • repeat nine more times
  • do two more sets of 10 repetitions

4. Elbow bend

To perform the elbow bend:

  • stand straight
  • lower the arm to one side
  • slowly bend the arm upwards until the hand touches the shoulder
  • hold this position for 15 to 30 seconds
  • repeat nine more times

5. Wrist extensor stretch

To perform the wrist extensor stretch:

  • raise the arm straight out in front of the body
  • with the palm facing down, slowly bend the wrist downwards
  • using the other hand, gently pull the stretching hand back towards the body
  • hold this position for 15 to 30 seconds
  • straighten the wrist again
  • repeat twice
  • do two more sets of 3 repetitions

6. Wrist extensor flex

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To perform the wrist extensor flex:

  • raise the arm straight out in front of the body
  • with the palm facing down, slowly bend the wrist upwards
  • using the other hand, gently pull the fingers back towards the body
  • hold this position for 15 to 30 seconds
  • straighten the wrist again
  • repeat twice
  • do two more sets of 3 repetitions

7. Fist squeeze

To perform the fist squeeze:

  • use a rolled-up towel, sock, or tennis ball and place in the palm
  • grip the ball or towel with the fingers to form a fist
  • squeeze tightly for 10 seconds
  • repeat nine more times

8. Towel twist

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To perform the towel twist:

  • hold a loosely rolled-up towel lengthways, with one hand at each end
  • keep the shoulders relaxed
  • twist the towel by moving the hands in opposite directions, as if wringing out water
  • repeat nine more times
  • then repeat ten more times twisting the towel in the reverse direction

People call this condition tennis elbow because it strains the muscles and tendons that a person uses to grip a tennis racket. However, most cases of tennis elbow are not due to playing tennis or any other sport. Any activity that involves a gripping and twisting motion can cause this strain.

Tennis elbow usually occurs because of repetitive activity. Carpenters, painters, and plumbers are particularly susceptible.

Symptoms of tennis elbow vary from person to person and range from mild to severe. Typical symptoms include pain in the arm and tenderness around the elbow.

A person may notice swelling and a burning sensation around the elbow. They may find that their grip becomes weaker and may also feel pain further down the arm.

Continuation of the repetitive activity causing the strain can make it worse.

People with tennis elbow do not typically need to see a doctor. By stopping the repetitive activity and resting the arm, the pain usually eases within 2 weeks.

A person can treat tennis elbow at home by:

  • taking over-the-counter (OTC) painkillers, such as ibuprofen or another non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID)
  • using an ice pack, heat pack, or hot water bottle on the affected area to soothe the pain
  • learning how to protect the joints to avoid reoccurrence

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Placing an ice pack on the elbow will help reduce inflammation.

Ceasing or reducing repetitive activities and resting the arm can aid recovery. When resting is not possible, adjusting arm movements can help to ease symptoms. For example, a person can try keeping their palms flat and elbows bent when lifting.

Doing exercises designed for tennis elbow helps strengthen forearm muscles and improve function. People whose jobs involve a repetitive movement of the forearm should do these exercises to prevent tennis elbow returning.

Always consult a doctor before attempting exercises for tennis elbow. A doctor can make sure that the exercises will not affect any underlying conditions or injuries.

If exercising the forearms seems to worsen symptoms of tennis elbow, a person can try:

  • resting the arm for longer
  • using an ice pack on the arm to help reduce inflammation
  • taking OTC medication, such as ibuprofen, for the relief of pain and inflammation
  • speaking to a doctor or physical therapist to make sure they are doing the exercises properly

Most people can treat the pain and inflammation caused by tennis elbow with rest and OTC medication. If the pain is severe or does not go away within 2 weeks, a person should see a doctor.

A doctor may prescribe a different NSAID or a steroid injection. Most people only need one injection, though they may need to rest their elbow for around 2–3 weeks afterward. Pain can worsen after a steroid injection, but this should improve within 48 hours.

Some people may find that tennis elbow is affecting their day-to-day activities. In these cases, a doctor may recommend physical or occupational therapy. A specialist can provide treatments and exercises to help improve motion and reduce pain.

A doctor or therapist may also recommend a supportive brace or clasp. This can help reduce strain on the elbow if repetitive movements are necessary for a person's work.