Can Rowing Cause Serious Tennis Elbow?

Are you feeling a sharp pain in your forearm after a vigorous rowing session? You might be surprised to learn that this discomfort could be a sign of a condition commonly associated with another sport: tennis.

Yes, we’re talking about the infamous “tennis elbow”. In this article, we will delve into the unexpected connection between rowing and tennis elbow.

We’ll explore how the repetitive movements and intense strain involved in rowing can potentially lead to this painful condition, even if you’ve never picked up a tennis racket in your life. So let’s dive in and uncover the truth about rowing and tennis elbow.


Understanding Tennis Elbow

Tennis elbow, scientifically known as lateral epicondylitis, is a common condition that causes pain around the outside of the elbow. It’s often associated with overuse of the forearm muscles and tendons, especially in activities that require repetitive arm motions or gripping. Despite its name, tennis elbow doesn’t exclusively affect tennis players.

The primary symptom of tennis elbow is pain and tenderness in the bony knob on the outside of your elbow. This area may also be swollen. The pain might also radiate into the upper or lower arm. Although the damage is in the elbow, one is likely to hurt more when doing things with hands and wrists.

Diagnosing tennis elbow involves a medical examination. Your doctor will conduct a physical examination and ask about your medical history. They might also perform certain tests or movements to reproduce the symptoms of tennis elbow. These can include straightening your wrist against resistance or simply flexing your elbow.

In some cases, further testing such as an X-ray or MRI might be required to rule out other conditions that could be causing the symptoms, like arthritis or a pinched nerve. However, in most cases, the diagnosis can be made based on the physical examination alone.

Rowing and Repetitive Strain Injuries

Rowing is a physically demanding sport that requires strength, endurance, and precision. It involves the use of your whole body, from your legs pushing against the footrest to your arms pulling the oar. The repetitive motion of rowing- the continuous cycle of catch, drive, finish, and recovery- places significant strain on various muscle groups and joints.

One of the key physical demands of rowing is the repetitive strain it puts on the athlete’s body. With every stroke, there’s a high level of stress placed on the muscles and tendons, especially those in the arms and back. This repetitive strain can potentially lead to injuries if not properly managed.

Repetitive Strain Injuries (RSIs) are a family of injuries affecting tendons, tendon sheaths, muscles, nerves and joints. They cause persistent or recurring pains most commonly in the neck, shoulders, forearms, hands, wrists, elbows and lower limbs. In rowing, the repetitive motion can lead to RSIs in the elbow, which can manifest as conditions like tennis elbow.

The risk of RSIs in rowing is heightened by factors such as technique, equipment setup, intensity of training, and lack of rest or recovery time. Understanding these risks and how to manage them is an important part of preventing RSIs in rowing.

Can Rowing Cause Tennis Elbow?

The fundamental question arises – can the intense and repetitive action of rowing lead to tennis elbow? The answer lies in understanding the biomechanics of the rowing stroke and its effect on the elbow joint.

The rowing stroke is composed of two main parts: the drive phase, where the rower pulls the oar through the water, and the recovery phase, where the rower returns to the starting position. It’s during the drive phase, particularly when the rower is pulling the oar, that the forearm muscles contract forcefully, putting a strain on the tendons that attach to the lateral epicondyle – the bony bump on the outside of the elbow. Over time, this repeated forceful contraction can lead to inflammation and micro-tears in the tendons, resulting in tennis elbow.

While there are not many studies explicitly linking rowing to tennis elbow, experts in sports medicine acknowledge the risk. For instance, the British Journal of Sports Medicine has cited lateral epicondylitis as a common overuse injury in rowers. Moreover, a study in the American Journal of Sports Medicine found that rowers were among athletes with a high prevalence of elbow pain.

These expert opinions and studies suggest that while rowing may not be a direct cause of tennis elbow, the repetitive and strenuous nature of the sport can certainly contribute to its development.

Prevention and Treatment

Preventing tennis elbow from rowing involves a combination of proper technique, strength training, and adequate rest. Here are some tips:

  1. Proper Technique: Ensuring you’re using the correct rowing technique can help distribute the strain evenly across your muscles, reducing the risk of overloading your elbow.
  2. Strength Training: Incorporating forearm strengthening exercises into your routine can help build resilience in your tendons and muscles.
  3. Adequate Rest: Overuse is a major cause of tennis elbow. Make sure to give your body enough time to recover between workouts.

If you do develop tennis elbow from rowing, various treatments are available. These include:

  1. Rest and Ice: The first line of treatment usually involves rest and ice to reduce inflammation and promote healing.
  2. Physical Therapy: Exercises to stretch and strengthen your forearm muscles can help relieve pain and prevent further injury.
  3. Medication: Over-the-counter pain relievers and anti-inflammatories can help manage pain.
  4. Injections or Surgery: In severe cases, doctors may recommend corticosteroid injections or surgery.


Rowing, due to its repetitive and strenuous nature, can contribute to the development of tennis elbow. However, with proper technique, adequate strength training, and sufficient rest, the risk can be significantly reduced.

The connection between rowing and tennis elbow underscores the importance of taking care of your elbow health as a rower. Listen to your body, seek professional advice when needed, and remember that prevention is always better than cure. Stay safe and happy rowing!