How to Exercise with an Elbow Bone Spur

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What is an elbow bone spur?

Elbow bone spurs, also called osteophytes, are considered an extra bone or abnormal bone growths in the elbow joint.

While normally elbow bone spurs can be asymptomatic and cause no harm, if they start pressing on delicate surrounding structures, this can affect elbow function and cause elbow pain.

With pain and limited use of the elbow, this will usually interfere with your ability to exercise.

Don’t worry though, it’s still possible to exercise with elbow bone spurs. You just may need to make some modifications to avoid further irritating the joint.

Let’s take a look at how to exercise with an elbow bone spur.

Causes of Elbow Bone Spurs

elbow bone spur causes

What causes bone spurs in the elbow to begin with?

Elbow arthritis is a common cause, particularly if it advances to a more severe osteoarthritis.

This type of degenerative joint disease can lead to the elbow joint breaking down. When this occurs, and there is loss of the structures within the joint that provide cushion, such as cartilage, bone spurs can form as replacement structures.

While arthritis is the most common cause of an elbow spur, there are other potential causes and risk factor to consider for development of bone spurs. They can include one or more of the following:

Symptoms of Elbow Bone Spurs

If you have bone spurs in one or both elbow joints, then you are likely experiencing one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Pain with bending or straightening the elbow
  • Elbow Stiffness
  • Elbow pain with lifting or reaching

If an elbow bone spur is pressing on any nearby nerves, then you may experience nerve symptoms, such as numbness, tingling or weakness.

Treatment Options for Elbow Bone Spurs

treatment of elbow bone spurs

Most bone spurs, or bony growths, will not cause too much of an issue. If, however, you are noticing any of the above symptoms, then you’ll need to consider getting some professional treatment.

Imaging, such as an X ray, will help to officially rule in the presence of a bone spur in the elbow joint.

If you have a bone spur and are symptomatic, your doctor will likely recommend more conservative treatment methods first. This may include adjusting and modifying your activity level until your pain decreases, anti-inflammatories if swelling is present, and possibly physical therapy.

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy will take a look at your elbow joint pain and restrictions to determine what treatment method will be best.

This commonly includes practicing various exercises to improve elbow range of motion and strength.

Seeing as elbow range of motion and flexibility is commonly affected by bone spurs, let’s take a look at common elbow stretches you’ll likely see in physical therapy, and you can practice at home as well.

1. Standing Biceps Stretch

standing biceps stretch step 1
standing biceps stretch step 2
  • Standing tall, clasp your hands together behind your back.
  • While keeping the elbows straight, slowly extend and reach the arms back as far as you can.
  • If the stretch feels very intense, begin with holding for about 5 seconds and repeat 10x.
  • If you can tolerate a longer stretch, aim for 30 seconds or up to 1 minute of stretching.

If this position is a little sensitive for your shoulders, then here is a demo of an alternative biceps stretch position you may like a little better.

2. Triceps Stretch

triceps stretch step 1
triceps stretch step 2

In either sitting or standing, bend the elbow on the side you intend to stretch, then raise the elbow so that it’s pointing towards the ceiling.

  • Take the opposite hand and grab the raised elbow.
  • Gently pull back on the elbow until a stretch is felt in the triceps.
  • Try to hold for at least 30 seconds, or even up to 1 minute.

If you find it challenging to keep both arms raised overhead for this stretch, the following video will show an alternative position to stretch the triceps using a strap.

3. Wrist Extension Stretch

wrist extension stretch step 1
wrist extension stretch step 2

As the forearm muscles connect to both the wrist and elbow joints, a wrist stretch can be very helpful for your elbow joint pain.

  • In either standing or sitting, stretch the arm straight forward with the palm facing down.
  • Extend the wrist so that the fingers are pointing towards the ceiling.
  • Take the opposite hand and place it over the palm of the other arm.
  • Gently pull the wrist back into a stretch towards you.
  • Gently pull the wrist back into a stretch towards you.

4. Wrist Flexion Stretch

wrist flexion stretch step 1
wrist flexion stretch step 2
  • In either standing or sitting, stretch the arm straight forward with the palm facing down.
  • Flex the wrist so that the fingers are pointing down towards the floor.
  • Take the opposite hand and place it over the hand of the other arm.
  • Try to hold for at least 30 seconds, or up to 1 minute.
  • Gently push down on the wrist until you feel a stretch.

When you lose elbow range of motion, it’s very common to find it difficult to full extend or straighten the elbow. To try to regain some of this loss motion, it’s helpful to practice long duration stretches with the elbow in an extended position.

Check out the video below that shows any easy way to do this at home.

Surgery

Sometimes if one or more bone spurs are contributing to high levels of pain and limited use of the elbow, then arthroscopic elbow surgery may be needed.

This is a minor surgery, literally known as a “key hole” procedure, due to the small incisions necessary to remove bone spurs and any other loose bodies present.

Most patients are able to experience a smooth recovery post-op, with few complications. Your surgeon may still require you to see a physical therapist or an occupational therapist post-op to address current restrictions and speed along recovery.

The recovery time after an elbow arthroscopy for removal of bone spurs can vary depending on what was done in your exact procedure and limitations after the surgery.

Usually, you’ll be able to get back to work or school within a week. The full recovery though, including rehab time, may take a few months.

Tips for Exercising with an Elbow Bone Spur

tips for exercising with an elbow bone spur

If you’re trying to exercise with a bone spur that has not needed any type of surgery, then you may want to try some of the following tips to help keep your workout as pain-free as possible.

  1. Don’t push into pain: Make sure you’re not causing increasing pain with any movement or position. If you are, then you need to either modify the exercise you’re doing or rest altogether.

  2. Use a smaller elbow range of motion during the exercise: If you have elbow pain moving the elbow a certain amount, then you may need to modify your elbow range of motion during that exercise. Try to keep things in as much of a pain-free range as possible.
  3. Avoid heavy weight training: For resistance exercises that target the muscles around the elbow, such as the biceps and triceps, avoid using a heavy amount of resistance. Heavy resistance training will usually make your joint pain worse. Start with smaller weights and resistance equipment, then you can gradually increase as long as your elbow doesn’t hurt more with this.
  4. Adjust your reps and sets: You may need to modify how many reps and sets of an exercise you’re doing to avoid overuse of the area. Again, start small and then work your way up to slowly assess what you can tolerate.

Just remember, it’s very possible to keep a great workout routine even with an elbow bone spur. The biggest thing is to know your limits and don’t encourage any activity or position that makes you hurt more!

FAQ:

Who usually performs an elbow arthroscopy?

An orthopedic surgeon who specializes in the elbow joint.

Should I wear an elbow brace while I’m exercising?

You can if it seems to help with pain control and any swelling you may have but try not to solely rely on it. It’s better for your elbow muscles to work as much on their own as possible vs relying on a brace for support.

Should I ice my elbow if I have bone spurs?

You absolutely can. Ice can be helpful for pain and swelling that may accompany elbow joint bone spurs.

Wondering What's Next?

Discover 11 Easy, At-Home “Stretch Exercises” for Stronger, Pain-Free Joints (click below)

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