Approaching her 50s, actress Sharon Stone remarked that her elbows were starting to look like little purses. Meanwhile, ballerinas are trained to never show the audience their elbows.
This essential joint gets a bum rap. Even the condition "tennis elbow," in which the joint becomes painful, is a misnomer: Only 5 percent of those with this problem actually are tennis players. Tennis elbow, an overuse injury, is the result of repeated extension of the wrist and elbow. The pain radiates on a bony prominence on the outside of your elbow, called the lateral epicondylitis, and can hurt simply by shaking someone's hand or holding a coffee cup.
"Golfer's elbow" is similar, but the pain occurs on the bony lump on the inside of the elbow, rather than the outside. In children, "Little League elbow" can occur with one too many baseball pitches. Tiny tears in the tendons and subsequent pain and inflammation can all wreak havoc with this funny-looking joint.
Repeatedly throwing a Frisbee, painting, turning screwdrivers, the demands of tennis, golf and rock-climbing, all can affect the tendons that help you move your wrist and fingers. Even yogis are not invincible to pain. Too many bad "down-dogs" done sloppily can result in the tipping point of the tissues involved, as the upper body is very vulnerable to overuse injuries.
But there is good news, as the condition usually improves with time. A major study published by the American Academy of Family Physicians in 2007 showed that corticosteroid shots are the best treatment for short-term relief, but physical therapy is the best approach for long-term results. Sometimes a wait-and-see approach can work as well, as the pain often runs its course in a few weeks.
Whatever your activity, proper technique can be key in avoiding elbow pain. In yoga, practicing the right mechanics is also essential to avoid injuries such as elbow pain. For example, the downward-facing-dog pose, an inverted V-shape position, can put too much stress on the lower arms and wrists if done incorrectly. In this pose, you are using your hands and legs to support the inverted shape. Done repeatedly (if incorrectly), as in a class setting, it could set someone up for an overuse injury.
The strength of the pose comes from moving your shoulder blades towards your hands, known as the gleno-humeral rhythm of the shoulder joint, as well as the strength of your legs. This simple correction can take all of the weight off of your wrists. (Remember, if a pose hurts, it's wrong.)
The same applies to golf. Good technique, a strong rigid core coupled with "soft" arms is key. But if you use too much force, and muscle the swing with your arms and shoulders again and again, you could end up with elbow pain.
So, roll up your sleeves: Elbows aren't that funny looking. There's summer fun to be had.
Connie Aronson is a health and fitness specialist and personal trainer based in Ketchum.