Rowing With Tennis Elbow: What To Do

If you’re a dedicated rower, the last thing you want is an injury getting in the way of your passion. And if that injury happens to be tennis elbow? Well, we know how tough it can be! But don’t despair– there are options out there for maintaining and building up your strength so that rowing with tennis elbow won’t slow you down too much. In this blog post, we’ll discuss easy things you can do to keep your form and power while still taking extra care of those weary arms. So get ready — it’s time to take on the challenge of pain-free rowing!

1. Understanding Tennis Elbow – Causes and Symptoms

Tennis elbow, medically known as lateral epicondylitis, is a common condition affecting your elbow’s tendons. Despite its name, you don’t have to be a tennis player to suffer from this condition. It’s often seen in individuals who engage in repetitive arm and wrist motions.

Causes of Tennis Elbow

Tennis elbow typically arises from overuse of the forearm muscles and tendons, leading to inflammation and pain around the elbow joint. This overuse can result from any activity that involves repetitive twisting or gripping motions, such as using a screwdriver, painting, or even excessive typing.

In tennis specifically, incorrect technique or equipment such as using a racket that’s too heavy or having too tight a grip can lead to the condition. However, it’s not exclusive to athletes and can affect anyone who performs repetitive arm movements.

Symptoms of Tennis Elbow

The symptoms of tennis elbow can range from mild to severe and typically develop gradually. Key signs include:

  • Pain and tenderness on the outside of the elbow, which may extend into the forearm and wrist.
  • Increased pain when shaking hands, gripping objects, or turning doorknobs.
  • Stiffness in the elbow, particularly in the morning.
  • Weakness in the forearm.

It’s important to note that if left untreated, the pain from tennis elbow can last for several months and may result in chronic elbow pain. Therefore, if you’re experiencing persistent elbow pain, it’s advisable to consult a healthcare professional for proper diagnosis and treatment.

2. How Rowing Can Affect Tennis Elbow

Rowing is a comprehensive exercise that engages various muscle groups, including those in the arms, back, and legs. However, the repetitive nature of the rowing motion can place significant strain on the tendons in the elbow, potentially leading to conditions like tennis elbow.

Tennis elbow, or lateral epicondylitis, is characterized by pain in the outer part of the elbow, which can extend to the forearm and wrist. It’s typically caused by overuse or repetitive strain of the forearm muscles and tendons.

In the context of rowing, this condition can develop due to several factors:

1. Incorrect Technique: If you’re not using proper rowing technique, you may be putting unnecessary stress on your elbows. For example, pulling the handle primarily with your arms instead of driving with your legs and engaging your core can overload the tendons in your elbow.

2. Overtraining: Engaging in intense rowing sessions without adequate rest can lead to overuse injuries, including tennis elbow. Your muscles and tendons need time to recover and repair themselves after workouts.

3. Improper Equipment Use: Using a rowing machine with too high resistance can also contribute to developing tennis elbow. The increased resistance can force your arms to work harder than they should, placing extra strain on your elbow tendons.

Prevention strategies include learning and maintaining proper rowing technique, incorporating adequate rest periods into your training schedule, and ensuring your equipment is set at an appropriate resistance level. If you’re experiencing persistent elbow pain while rowing, it’s advisable to seek medical advice to correctly diagnose the issue and determine the best course of treatment.

3. Treatment Options for Rowers with Tennis Elbow

Tennis elbow, or lateral epicondylitis, is a common overuse injury that can affect rowers due to the repetitive arm and wrist motions involved in the sport. If you’re a rower struggling with tennis elbow, there are several treatment options available:

Rest: The first step toward recovery is properly resting your arm. This means taking a break from rowing and any other activities that may exacerbate the pain.

Physical Therapy: Physical therapists can provide exercises to gradually strengthen the muscles and tendons around your elbow. These exercises can help improve flexibility and reduce pain.

Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Medicines: Over-the-counter drugs like aspirin or ibuprofen can help reduce pain and inflammation.

Ice Therapy: Applying ice to the affected area can help control swelling and provide temporary relief, making participating in other treatments such as physiotherapy easier.

Compression Sleeve: Wearing a compression sleeve can increase blood circulation, provide support, and relieve tension and pressure on the elbow, offering a range of benefits for those suffering from tennis elbow.

At-Home Exercises: Once the pain has decreased and your flexibility has improved, you can start doing strengthening exercises at home, like light hand weights or resistance band workouts.

Surgery: If symptoms do not significantly improve within six to 12 months, surgery may be considered to repair torn tendons and remove damaged tissues. However, this is typically seen as a last resort.

Alternative Treatments: Strategies for treating tennis elbow naturally include acupuncture, Egoscue therapy, a healthy diet, and using essential oils.

As always, it’s important to consult with a healthcare professional before starting any treatment plan. They can provide personalized advice based on your specific condition and needs.

4. Prevention Tips to Avoid Developing Tennis Elbow

Rowing is a fantastic full-body workout, but like any sport, it carries the risk of certain injuries, including tennis elbow. However, there are several strategies rowers can implement to prevent developing this condition:

Proper Technique: Good rowing form is crucial in preventing tennis elbow. Ensure you’re driving the stroke with your legs and core, not just pulling with your arms. Your wrists should stay flat, not flexed or extended, as you handle the oar or rowing machine handle.

Adequate Warm-Up and Cool Down: Warming up before you start rowing prepares your muscles for the workout ahead and can help prevent injuries. Similarly, cooling down afterwards helps your muscles recover and reduces the risk of stiffness and soreness.

Regular Breaks: Taking regular breaks during long rowing sessions gives your muscles and tendons time to rest and recover, reducing the risk of overuse injuries like tennis elbow.

Strength Training: Strengthening the muscles in your arms, shoulders, and back can help them better withstand the stresses of rowing. Consider exercises like bicep curls, tricep extensions, and shoulder presses.

Stretching: Regularly stretching your arm, wrist, and shoulder muscles can improve their flexibility, making them less prone to injury.

Correct Equipment: If you’re using a rowing machine, make sure it’s set up correctly. The resistance shouldn’t be so high that it forces you to grip the handle too tightly, which can strain your forearm muscles and tendons.

Listen to Your Body: Don’t ignore pain. If your elbow starts to hurt, stop rowing and rest. If the pain persists, consult a healthcare professional.

By incorporating these tips into your rowing routine, you can enjoy the benefits of the sport while minimizing your risk of developing tennis elbow.

5. Stretches and Exercises to Help Reduce Pain From Tennis Elbow 

Tennis elbow, also known as lateral epicondylitis, can cause significant discomfort. However, specific stretches and exercises can help reduce the associated pain by strengthening your forearm muscles and increasing flexibility. Here are a few exercises that can help:

1. Wrist Extensor Stretch: Extend your arm straight out in front of you, palm facing down. Slowly bend your wrist downwards, using your other hand to gently pull on your hand until you feel a stretch in your forearm. Hold for 15-30 seconds and repeat a few times.

2. Wrist Flexor Stretch: This is similar to the Wrist Extensor Stretch but with the palm facing up. Extend your arm in front of you, bend your wrist, pointing your hand toward the floor. With your other hand, gently bend your wrist farther until you feel a mild to moderate stretch in your forearm. Hold for at least 15 to 30 seconds.

3. Fist Clench: Sitting at a table, rest your forearm on the table. Hold a rolled-up towel or small ball in your hand. Squeeze it for a few seconds, then release. Repeat this 10 times.

4. Supination with a Dumbbell: Sit or stand holding a light dumbbell vertically in your hand. Rotate your forearm to turn your palm up, then rotate it the other way to have your palm facing down. Repeat this 10-15 times on each side.

5. Towel Twist: Hold a towel with both hands and twist it as if you’re wringing out water. Do this in both directions for about 10 repetitions each.

6. Isometric Wrist Extension: Rest your elbow on a table with your wrist hanging over the edge, palm down. Hold a light weight and slowly lift your hand, keeping your forearm on the table. Lower the weight slowly and repeat.

6. Professional Advice for Managing Tennis Elbow While Rowing

Managing tennis elbow, especially while continuing a strenuous activity like rowing, requires a careful balance of prevention, treatment, and rehabilitation techniques. Here are some professional tips to help manage tennis elbow while rowing:

1. Master Proper Technique: Correct rowing technique is crucial to avoid undue stress on your elbows. Ensure you’re driving the stroke primarily with your legs and core, not just pulling with your arms. Your wrists should stay flat as you handle the oar or rowing machine handle.

2. Use Appropriate Equipment: If you’re using a rowing machine, make sure the resistance isn’t set so high that it forces you to grip the handle too tightly. This can strain your forearm muscles and tendons, leading to tennis elbow.

3. Incorporate Rest Periods: Regular breaks during your rowing sessions can prevent overuse injuries. It’s essential to let your muscles and tendons rest and recover.

4. Warm-Up and Cool Down: Always warm up before starting your workout and cool down afterwards. This helps prepare your muscles for the activity ahead and aids in recovery post-workout.

5. Strengthening Exercises: Incorporating exercises to strengthen your forearm muscles can help them better cope with the demands of rowing. Wrist curls, reverse wrist curls, and resistance band exercises can be particularly beneficial.

6. Stretch Regularly: Regular stretching can improve your arm, wrist, and shoulder flexibility, making them less prone to injury. Before and after your workout, gentle stretches can help ease tension and reduce stiffness.

7. Seek Medical Advice: If you start experiencing persistent pain, stop rowing and consult a healthcare professional. They may suggest physical therapy, medication, or in severe cases, surgery.

To summarize, if you experience tennis elbow in the context of rowing, the best thing to do is rest and recover as much as possible. Try different techniques such as icing and anti-inflammatory drugs to alleviate the pain. Then gradually and periodically test your hand strength to check for progress. Always consult with a doctor or professional trainer regarding any questions you may have about your treatment plan.

Regarding prevention, it’s always wise to properly warm up before every exercise session–especially for a rigorous sport like rowing! Additionally, make sure to use proper form at all times and encourage yourself not to overwork your muscles by taking regular breaks throughout your workouts. Above all else, take care of yourself and never put yourself through unnecessary stress or strain–rowing is meant to be enjoyable! Our team here at The Rowing Tutor hopes you found this article helpful – now that you know more about tennis elbow with rowing, why not explore some of our other articles?