Upright Rows & Tennis Elbow

Improper form when performing upright rows can cause or aggravate tennis elbow.
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You wouldn't think that you'd have to worry about a tennis injury in the weight room -- but physical therapists report occasionally treating people who lift weights for tennis elbow. Whenever you experience pain in your arm that is more than just typical after-workout muscle aches, don't ignore it. The Mayo Clinic cautions that performing exercises -- like upright rows -- when you have tennis elbow can make the problem worse, resulting in chronic pain.

What is Tennis Elbow?

Overusing and straining your forearm muscles inflames them and may even cause small tears in the tendons that connect your muscles to your elbow. Swelling and tearing in your tendon and muscles is painful and that pain is magnified, starting in your elbow and spreading down into your forearm and wrist, whenever you try to perform any action that involves contracting your forearm muscles to grip or turn, such as when you pick up a mug, operate a doorknob or shake hands.

Causes of Tennis Elbow

The muscle strain that characterizes tennis elbow is caused by repetitive motion. So although repeatedly using a backhand stroke in tennis could definitely cause tennis elbow, so could any other motion that is repeated with your elbow and forearm. The Mayo Clinic lists common causes of tennis elbow to include using plumbing tools, driving screws, painting, excessive computer mouse use and chopping ingredients for cooking, especially meat because of the increased pressure that must be exerted.

The Upright Row Connection

You may wonder how someone who only lifts weights and has never picked up a tennis racket could sustain an injury like tennis elbow. But consider the exercises you do, like upright rows. Weightlifting exercises are repetitive in nature because you purposely execute set after set. When you are working through upright rows, regardless of whether you're using a barbell, dumbbells or the cable machine, you engage your forearms and put strain on your tendons when you grip the resistance and lift the weight. That's not to say that upright rows are a dangerous exercise that will result in tennis elbow. Exercise science expert Rebecca Peterson says that performing upright rows incorrectly and not concentrating on proper form is usually what puts strain on the tendons and results in tennis elbow.


Typically tennis elbow will heal on its own if you allow your muscles and tendons to rest while they're still inflamed. An effective preventative measure is to learn and use proper form for upright rows as well as other exercises and tasks you perform on a regular basis. When you have tennis elbow, over-the-counter pain medications and applying ice to the injured arm will help alleviate the pain while your arm is recuperating. Your doctor or physical therapist might advise wearing a strap or brace on your forearm to take the stress off your muscle. Peterson advises physical therapy patients to work their trapezius and biceps to strengthen the supporting muscles. If you suffer from tennis elbow for more than a year and therapy and pain management measures aren't working, a sports injury doctor may recommend surgery to remove the damaged tissue.

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