Tennis Elbow and other types of tendinitis are very common. Luckily, yoga can help. People develop Tennis Elbow from repeated movement to the elbow joint. It typically occurs when pressure is applied to the joints in compensation for lack of muscle strength. In order to prevent this kind of injury and minimize pain, we need to strengthen the muscles that affect the elbow, especially those in the wrists and forearms.
Muscles are interconnected and make up muscle chains, so an injury in your elbow may be related to muscles that seem far away, like your triceps, or even your back. People turn to yoga when they have injuries like this because it’s a holistic practice that strengthens and stretches entire muscle chains, not just the injury in isolation.
Here is a list of poses that can help. Let’s start with problematic poses, namely downward dog, plank and Chatarunga (the movement when you lower down from plank to bent elbows) and then we’ll speak about some poses that enforce good alignment without applying too much pressure on the joint. Correct alignment is essential.
All weight bearing poses must be done mindfully; listen to your body and don’t do them if it’s too painful. If this is the case, skip down to Warrior II.
Downward Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
Make sure you’re not locking your elbows and that your arms are aligned. Straight does not necessarily mean fully extended for most people. If your elbows hyperextend, work on moving your elbows slightly so that your arms are perfectly aligned, it may feel like you are bending your elbows. Internally rotate your forearms and externally rotate your upper arms so that your shoulder blades expand and your back is flat. If you are tight, bring your shoulders slightly forward. Play with bending your knees, lift your hips up, lift your heels up and down. Observe how you feel as your make small adjustments.
Plank and Chatarunga
In plank you should be a straight line from top to bottom inclining from your feet to your head. When you lower down to Chatarunga, keep your elbows in close to your body. If you want to continue to a push-up or upward facing dog, lower down so that your elbows are 90 degrees and push up. Engage your thighs by rotating them in and use your legs to support more weight. Broaden your back and engage the shoulders.
Warrior II (Virabhadrasana II)
This pose allows yogis to strengthen and tone arm muscles without placing weight on the joints. I chose Warrior II, but the same is true for Warrior I, High lunge, etc. In order to find correct alignment, find your legs in a wide stance with your front heel lined up with the arch of your back foot. Make sure your shoulders are directly over your hips and that the arms are in a straight line. Your gaze should be at your fingertips. Once you are aligned (use a mirror), try to find stillness in the pose and hold it for at least five full breaths.
Forearms, Wrist and Hands Exercises
There are several ways to stretch these muscles. First, try putting your right hand straight out in front of your body, palm facing out. With your left hand, gently pull back each finger separately, then try pulling back the entire hand at once. Repeat with the other hand.
Neil with your knees on the floor for a strengthening exercise. Place both hands on the floor in front of you, shoulder-width apart. First, try with your hands flat on the floor, palms down and apply gentle pressure, front to back and side to side. Flip your hands to the sides and reverse them so that the fingers are facing your knees. Be careful not to apply too much pressure to your wrists too quickly, because you can cause damage.
Chair Pose (Utkatasana)
This is another pose that does not require you to put weight on your elbows, yet it allows you to stretch the tendons and ligaments and concentrate on alignment. Squat deeply from a standing pose with your feet at hips’ width apart, bringing your weight into the heels. Stretch your arms overhead and keep your sternum lifted. Make sure you are breathing mindfully and pull your belly in and up, open your chest and find balance. Try this again, but with your feet together and your arms together in Thunderbolt Pose.