After years of playing racket sports including tennis, racquetball and most recently pickleball, I’ve suffered from tennis elbow for a long time. Apart from that, in my younger years, I did a lot of heavy weight lifting and my right elbow always nagged at me from the overuse and abuse that I’ve put it through…and I think that’s another reason it tends to flare up after swinging a paddle or racket.
While wearing a good tennis elbow brace (click to see the one I use) does help alleviate my pain while I’m on the court, that doesn’t really get to the root of the problem since you really need to do some kind of proper rehabilitation exercises.
I’d tried different wrist stretches and watched several Youtube videos but the best discovery for me was the Theraband Flexbar that I bought a few years ago after a physical therapist recommended it to me.
The flexible rubber bar is used to perform a simple twisting exercise called the “Tyler Twist”, named after Timothy Tyler, PT, one of the Physical Therapists that co-authored a clinical research study that in the end proved that this simple rubber bar and the twisting exercise they came up is actually an effective and inexpensive way to treat tennis elbow.
Over the years I’ve done lots of different rehab exercises and seen a variety of doctors specialized in sports medicine and physical therapists. I’ve also had acupuncture and acupressure done on my elbow to relieve episodes of severe pain.
At a certain point, a good physical therapist called me out and told me if I just kept playing and overusing my elbow without doing some preventative stretching and exercises I was going to always end up back in his office again and again. He was right and it was a good wake up call. I was just going to get patched up every time it really hurt rather than taking the long-term approach to try to prevent the pain.
TheraBand Flexbar Review:
The Flexbar is a rigid rubber cylindrical bar that measures 12″ long. The dry natural rubber bar comes in 4 progressive resistance levels to match the user’s degree of elbow pain and strength capacity. Each of the four versions of the Flexbar is made using a different color to easily differentiate them.
The colors, in order from least to most rigid, along with the (pounds of force needed) to bend it into a U shape are:
Color (lbs of force needed to bend):
- Yellow: (6 lbs.)
- Red (10 lbs.)
- Green: (15 lbs.)
- Blue (25 lbs.)
The Flexbar measures exactly one foot (12″) in length. The circumference of the bars also increases with the level of resistance. The green one that I use measures 5.5″ around, the outer edge is ribbed which makes it easier to grasp and twist.
Note: The Flexbar does contain latex.
How to Use the TheraBand Flexbar?
It does come with a simple printed illustration but I’m more of a visual person so I went to youtube to see the bar in action. Below is the video I originally saw back in 2015 when I first bought the TheraBand, I ended up watching a bunch of other ones but came back to this one. I think it’s the best one I’ve found for giving a clear explanation and visual on how to do it…and it’s only 2 minutes-compared to some others that drag on.
Another important thing is that he shows the correct way to use it for tennis elbow vs golfers elbow. (lateral epicondylitis vs. medial epicondylitis)
The exercises are slightly different (hand placement and direction of twisting) which some other videos do not clarify.
Note: he mentions that he has a link at the end of the video to buy one but I didn’t see it so I’m not sure if he removed it. Here’s the Theraband on for sale on Amazon.
He also mentions photos of the exercises but I didn’t see those either. You can find the original photos here (will open in new window) showing exactly how to perform the exercise for tennis elbow. There is a separate set of photos here if using it for golfer’s elbow.
Does the Flexbar work for Tennis Elbow and Golfer’s Elbow?
Studies done by Timothy Tyler and his colleagues at the Nicholas Institute showed that patients reported an 81% improvement in their elbow pain and a 72% improvement in strength using the technique. A similar study was done for golfer’s elbow (medial epicondylitis) using a flexible rubber bar to perform the “Tyler Twist” with similar success
Other Questions about the Flexbar:
Which color Flexbar to buy?
The colors available are: Yellow, Red, Green, and Blue. Those are in order from lightest to heaviest resistance (the blue is the hardest to bend and twist). According to the manufacturer’s (Performance Health®) documentation, the RED FlexBar is recommended for most users to start with. The yellow Flexbar should be used by patients experiencing a high degree of elbow pain, seniors and youths.
Once you’ve gotten used to the red you can then progress through the stiffer bars (green and eventually blue) as the injury improves and you get stronger. Yellow would be for users that have less arm strength or have severe pain and cannot twist the red bar. I personally decided to buy the green Flexbar. I’m a relatively large guy and a fairly strong grip so I skipped the red and found the green to be a good level of resistance for me.
How many repetitions and sets per day:
I’ve seen many online comments by users recommending that you start with 3 sets of 15 repetitions twice a day and progress to the harder color once that becomes and then progress to the next color and reduce your repetitions.
However, according to the original study, it said once a day and the interview by the New York Times, Tyler confirmed that his “patients did three sets of fifteen repetitions every day. Beginners should start with three sets of five repetitions, adding more as the repetitions get easier.
The sets should be done consecutively with only a short break in between each set, rather than spread out during the day.
Keep in mind that the exercise may be slightly uncomfortable to do at first, but I found the pain started to subside within a week or so. You may also need to ice your elbow if you have pain. Of course, if the pain is severe you should stop using it and see a doctor.
As mentioned, I’m not a medical professional so if you are having tennis or golfer’s elbow it would be better to speak to a doctor. That said, studies have repeatedly shown that the Theraband is an effective treatment for most people.
As with most exercises and rehab, I think most of it comes down to consistency and the compound effect doing the exercises regularly. It’s very easy to use and even a couple minutes a day can help keep my elbow better conditioned. I tend to keep it on my desk within arms reach and try to do repetitions every day as a good break from sitting at my desk.
I’ll admit I do forget sometimes and go for stints without using it and I can tell. If my pain flares up again I get back in the routine of using it, generally, within a couple of weeks of consistent use, I start to feel relief.
If I were smart, I’d just stick to it and use it every day as part of my routine..and do it consistently, but I have the same problem with a lot of things. I tend to use things or do things when I need it.
I’d say if you are suffering from elbow pain, really for the price the TheraBand is worth a try. It’s not a miracle cure for tendinitis by any means but for me, it’s definitely been worth the money and a good training aid/rehab tool to have around when I need it.
The company is based in Akron, Ohio, they have been in business for 40+ years and also make other rehab tools like elastic bands and tubing.
Golfer’s Elbow: https://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/golfers-elbow-basics
US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health: A New Exercise For Tennis Elbow That Works!