by TJ Hendrickson, DPT, OCS
"The elbow bone's connected to the... shoulder bone..."
When evaluating human movement and various ailments as a result of impaired movement, it's important to take the entire kinetic chain into account. Overhead athletes, including those participating in racquet sports, are no exception.
In recent years there has been more evidence mounting in support of “regional interdependence” as a model for evaluation and treatment of injury. Regional interdependence is essentially the idea that dysfunction in remote locations of the body is responsible for a person's primary symptoms. One example is lateral elbow pain (Tennis elbow) and the relationship of shoulder girdle strength.
Most of the original research on Tennis elbow (pain on outside of elbow) points towards isolated forearm strengthening. Lately, greater focus has been placed on the influence of the shoulder girdle on elbow and distal arm pain. Recent studies highlight the importance of evaluating rotator cuff and scapular muscles in rehabilitating and/or preventing elbow injury.
Key muscle groups to evaluate when looking to prevent or reduce elbow pain are the Trapezius muscles and the Serratus Anterior. The middle and lower Trapezius and the Serratus Anterior assist with stability and control of the shoulder blade with overhead arm movements. They're responsible for helping to keep the shoulder in a proper position to allow for optimal force transmission from the trunk/core to the extremity. Deficits in these muscle groups are just one possible cause for impaired upper quarter mechanics and dysfunctional movement, and a thorough evaluation is always best for identifying areas that need work.
Below are a few great exercises used for strengthening these key muscles. They're great to include in your general strengthening routine and are a good place to start when trying to improve shoulder and arm health.
T's (2-3 sets x 10 reps)
Y's (2-3 sets x 10 reps)
Single Arm Uppercuts (2-3 sets x 10 reps)
Give these exercises a try and let us know if you have any questions. We hope these help keep you playing pain-free!