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What are the Different Types of Elbow Rehabilitation?

By Katriena Knights
Updated Feb 27, 2024
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Elbow injuries are not as common as injuries to other joints, such as the knee, but when an elbow injury does occur, different kinds of elbow rehabilitation can be prescribed to help heal and strengthen this complex joint. Elbow problems occur most often because of injuries related to sports such as golf or tennis, but they also can be the result of repetitive stress injury. Rehabilitation of the elbow can consist of exercises to strengthen the muscles in the forearm or the muscles in the upper arm. In some cases, cortisone shots or surgery might be necessary.

Elbow rehabilitation procedures differ depending on the nature of the injury. Injury to the elbow can arise from stress to the wrist, because the tendons and muscles that attach to the bones of the elbow work to move the lower arm, wrist and hands. For example, golfer's elbow, a painful condition in the elbow joint often suffered by golfers, occurs because of constant flexing of the wrist during the golf swing. Tennis elbow, another injury that requires rehabilitation, occurs because of repetitive wrist extension.

This interaction between the elements of the lower arm is why elbow physical therapy often involves various movements of the wrist. Physical therapy exercises for tennis elbow, for example, use hand and wrist movements to strengthen the muscles in the forearm. Stronger forearm muscles supply elbow support, strengthening the elbow joint and alleviating the pain. Elbow therapy can ease existing pain as well as prevent the condition from recurring in the future.

Other kinds of elbow rehabilitation involve exercising the biceps and triceps, the muscles of the upper arm. As with exercising the forearm muscles, this type of elbow rehabilitation provides additional support to the elbow joint in the long term. Those suffering from an elbow injury should be sure to follow the advice of a doctor or a physical therapist and perform all necessary elbow rehabilitation exercises as prescribed.

If pain in the elbow persists, doctors might administer cortisone shots to alleviate the swelling and reduce the pain. In rare cases, conventional elbow rehabilitation is ineffective, and elbow surgery must be performed. Doctors usually do not pursue this type of elbow rehabilitation unless the pain is severe, has not responded to conditional treatment and has persisted for several months or longer. Surgery typically focuses on tendon repair or adjustment — trimming abnormal tendons or loosening tendons from the bone, if necessary. Elbow rehabilitation through surgery is not always effective and sometimes might make the pain worse even after the healing process it complete.

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