Our wrists and elbows are such small parts of our bodies that we often forget how troublesome they can be when we get occasional twinges and aches. If left untreated and without conscious care, the little twinges can gradually turn into dull aches or even more intense bursts of uncomfortable pain.
We are bothered when we do the simplest, everyday tasks, such as opening the doorknob, working with the computer mouse or preparing food in in the kitchen.
Some of the wrists and elbows problems can happen during sports or accidents, however, way more contribution to the wrists and elbows problems come from how we use our bodies every day, in small movements or rest—how we sit, stand, write on the computer, drive car, etc.
Wrists and Elbows Problems from Poor Posture
It is not a surprise that poor posture affects your shoulder, neck and chest muscles. The shoulders hunch forward, the neck muscles get chronically tight because they fight the bigger forces of gravity of your head that is shifted forward. The chest muscles get chronically shortened, and thus encouraging the vicious circle of poor posture.
However, many athletes don’t know that shoulder misalignment can lead to many arm problems, especially wrists and elbows. The biceps (front of the upper arm) and triceps (back of your upper arm) muscles originate and cross the shoulder joint, and they insert in the elbow joint. When you have rounded shoulders, these muscles are affected as well and prevent the correct mechanics of the elbow joint.
If you are a tennis players (or athlete using your arms a lot), every movement you do with your arms is not mechanically correct and there will be disproportional forces on your joint. After many forehands or other athletic movements, you may start feeling pains and problems.
The tight or overstretched muscles in your shoulders and arms compress and strain the elbow joints, creating inflammation and pain in the muscle tendons and ligaments. You are probably very familiar with the “tennis elbow” or “golf elbow”, a quite unpleasant pain.
While many other causes may create wrist and elbow problems, you have to be aware of this domino effect: dysfunctional shoulders can cause elbow dysfunction which can cause wrist dysfunction and pain.
While the elbow problems can be corrected by correcting the biomechanics of the shoulders, the wrist problems often can be helped by strengthening of the muscles in the hand and forearms—the muscles that control the ability to flex and extend the fingers and stabilize the wrist joint.
Wrists and Elbows Problems from Repetitive Movements
Using the same (weak and dysfunctional) muscles every day repetitively is another big reason for wrists and elbows problems. Sometimes these aches are because of muscle fatigue, not an acute pain. You would think that using these muscles over and over every day would strengthen the muscles, but it is not as easy in life. The muscles get stronger when you use higher amounts of weights so they have to increase in strength to accommodate the effort.
The more you use a muscle in your athletic or daily abilities, the more you need to strengthen it so it can withstand the repetitive load. If it is not strong enough, it gets fatigued, and because of that it gets tight, which will cause pain and gradually dysfunctions in the joints and other muscles.
This is true not just for your shoulders, arms, wrists and elbows, but for every muscle in your body.
If you are a tennis player, you have to do specific tennis fitness. If you haven’t yet, discover all the imbalances and how to correct them, in my “Tennis Fitness for the Love of it” book.
Wrists and Elbows Problems from Musculoskeletal Imbalances
The arm’s muscles, tendons, ligaments and bones work together in amazing synchrony to allow a wide range of movements. But the muscles need to be strong and flexible, or the movement is not as precise. The major muscles (triceps and biceps) extend, respective flex the elbow. In addition, there are many small muscles that rotate your palm up (supinators) and rotate your palm down (pronators) and you use these muscles daily in many activities. Strengthening these muscles will significantly reduce your risk for injury. When your muscles are weak or tight, you will strain your tendons and ligaments. They can swell, get inflamed and cause more pain or injury during movements.
Wrist and Elbows Exercises
1) Elbow stretch
Keep your arm straight in the elbow, shoulders back, and make a fist. Grab your fist with the other hand and pull on it gently so you would feel a nice stretch along your forearm muscles toward the elbow. Repeat 2–3 times.
2) Forearm stretch
Stretch your arm forward with your palm up, keep your elbow straight, make a fist. With your left hand pull gently onto your fist toward your chest. Repeat up to 8 times if you feel a lot of tightness.
3) Supinator and Pronator
This exercise strengthens the muscles that rotate your palm, muscles that are very important in sports and many daily activities. Stretch your arm forward with a straight elbow and palm down. Hold a longer stick or a light weight. With the opposite hand, hold and support your elbow so it stays stationary, allowing only the rotational movement. Rotate your hand with the stick so your palm faces upward. Do at least 20 repetitions, 3–4 sets for each arm.
4) Ball squeezes
This is a great exercise to strengthen and stabilize the muscles that run from the wrist to the elbow. Sit straight with a good posture, keep you elbow bent and tucked against your side. Hold your hand palm up and spread open in front of you. Grab a rubber handball or a used (softer) tennis ball. Squeeze the ball as hard as you can 20 or more times. Repeat for 3–4 sets.
5) Shoulder correction
A few great exercises to correct your position of the shoulders (so you wouldn’t be hunched over) are elbow touches, arm circles and cats and dogs, described in previous articles. Read them to refresh your memory and perform them as often as you can. You can also find them in “Tennis Fitness for the Love of it” on pages 21–26. Getting your shoulders healthy is one of the best things you can do not just for your posture, but for your athletic performance.