Whether you want to bone up on your self-defense skills, work out some pent-up aggression or tone muscles, punching bags are a must at the gym. But when you wake up in the morning with a stiff elbow or feel pain in your wrist when you pick up your bag, you might regret your boxing habit, because wailing on the punching bag can result in tennis elbow.
About Tennis Elbow
It's the tendons in your elbow that cause the problem when you have tennis elbow, so-called because tennis players often come down with the injury, but your entire forearm might hurt. You may feel pain or weakness from your wrist to your elbow, especially when you hold a cup or twist the knobs on your car radio. The constant thwacking of your fist or arm against the punching bag inflames the tendon, especially if you spend a lot of time in the gym punching and hitting the same way.
How to Treat Tennis Elbow
You'll have to stop working the punching bag to treat tennis elbow, at least for a week or two. Resting the tendon in your elbow, taking over-the-counter pain relievers and using heat or ice are usually enough to get you back in action, but if the pain doesn't die down, see your doctor. You might also find some relief from acupuncture or other types of alternative therapy. Don't get back to the punching bag before your tendon is healed up though, because you can make things worse and end up with chronic pain.
Proper Punching Bag Technique
Using the punching bag -- your gym might have it labeled as a heavy bag -- seems pretty easy: just start beating on it. There's proper technique though, and knowing what that is can help you avoid coming down with tennis elbow. You'll want hand wraps or boxing gloves to protect your hands and lessen the impact of your punches on your body, including the tendon that runs through your elbow. Throw a variety of punches from a fighting stance, moving around the punching bag and ensuring that you're far enough away that your arm fully extends. Keep good boxing technique, and that should help keep your elbow tendons in good shape.
Punching Bag Alternatives
Stress relief and toning aren't the only benefits of going a round with the punching bag. You can also develop muscle endurance and improve your conditioning. Many other exercises will provide the same benefits though, so if you're prone to tennis elbow, it may be best to find a new activity for your workouts. Try shadow boxing or using the punching bag for kickboxing.
Nicki Wolf has been writing health and human interest articles since 1986. Her work has been published at various cooking and nutrition websites. Wolf has an extensive background in medical/nutrition writing and online content development in the nonprofit arena. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in English from Temple University.