Stress balls are used to improve grip strength with elbow tendinitis.
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Tendinitis is a painful condition that often affects the elbow. Tennis elbow and golfer's elbow are the most common types of tendinitis in the elbow. Decreased grip strength is a symptom of each of these disorders. Ball-squeezing exercises can improve strength and hand function with elbow tendinitis.
Elbow tendinitis can affect the tendons on both sides of the elbow. Repetitive wrist movements combined with gripping can lead to elbow tendinitis. Tennis elbow, also called lateral epicondylitis, is caused by overuse of the muscles that straighten the fingers and bend the wrist backward. Pain occurs at the tendon as it attaches to the pointed bone on the outside of the elbow. Golfer's elbow, or medial epicondylitis, causes pain at the bony point on the inside of the elbow. Muscles that bend the fingers and wrist forward attach to this bone.
Ball-squeezing exercises are performed to increase grip strength. A tennis ball or other flexible ball of similar size is used for this exercise. The ball is placed in the center of the palm with the fingers and thumb wrapped around it. In this position, the ball is gently squeezed -- without pain -- for approximately 3 seconds and repeated a set number of times, often 10 to 25. A typical goal is to work up to 3 sets in a row. These exercises should not increase pain in the elbow and are routinely discontinued if symptoms get worse.
Ball-squeezing exercises can be used to strengthen weak thumb and finger muscles caused by elbow tendinitis. Thumb bending is strengthened by pressing your thumb into the ball as you hold it in your palm with the other fingers. Pinch between the thumb and index finger is strengthened by holding the ball between these fingers and squeezing the sides of the ball at the same time. Thumb opposition is strengthened by repeating this exercise between the thumb and each of the remaining fingers individually. Although recommendations vary, these exercises are often performed 10 to 25 times each, working up to 3 sets in a row.
Ball squeezes may be difficult or painful with elbow tendinitis. The same exercises performed with a ball can be done with a folded towel, sponge or soft exercise putty until ball squeezes can be tolerated without pain. A "ball" can be made by pouring sand into an deflated balloon until it is about the size of an egg, and knotting the end.