Healing from Surgery: Practicing Yoga for Elbow Pain

by | Jul 6, 2021 | 2 comments

Practicing Yoga for Elbow Pain

If you are someone who’s had and is recovering from elbow surgery, then this article is for you. Practicing yoga for elbow pain may improve your overall health and reduce discomfort.

Quick Backstory

“So, how did you hurt your arm?” I’d get asked over and over again.

“Fell off my bike… fractured my elbow… had to have surgery to repair it.”

Even though surgery was scary, the procedure itself went well. The clunky hardware plate that was placed to hold my elbow intact healed the bones.

But what about the pain? Range of motion? Activities of daily living? Was I back to “normal,” now that surgery was over?

Heck no!

Occupational Therapy with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome

Ten days after surgery, the wrapping was removed and I was immediately started on weekly occupational therapy (OT) sessions.

Going to OT three times a week was a start. I definitely gained functionality, with respect to my injured arm. However, I remained frustrated by the pace of healing and continued pain.

Honestly, sometimes OT made me feel like a failure. My arm wasn’t moving and I was doing everything I was instructed to do… even the nightmarish hourly at-home exercises. Why wasn’t I getting better? Was I doing something wrong? Was something wrong with me?

Needless to say, after about a month of OT, I went back to the surgeon for a checkup. He wasn’t pleased. The surgeon kept telling me how “concerned” he was by my lack of progress and increased pain levels. So, he sent me to an interventional pain specialist who diagnosed me with complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS).

With this new diagnosis and added treatment regimen for the pain, I felt a new sense of hope. That small glimmer of light inspired me to do more digging.

Looking for a Sign: Could Yoga for Elbow Pain be the Answer?

As a board-certified holistic nurse, I turned to my nursing colleagues. I spent hours on the phone, discussing my frustrating situation with a dear friend. She kept telling me over and over again to “look for a sign”. Ask for help and you will get answers.

So, I tried it. I looked up to the sky, on almost a daily basis, and shouted aloud… help me! Please, give me a sign. Anything. I am feeling hopeless. I need help.

There it was. I wasn’t even looking and it appeared. An online yoga teacher training. Hmm, that wasn’t even on my radar at the time! This must be the sign I was looking for.

I was an avid yoga practitioner, prior to my bike accident. Becoming a teacher wasn’t something I was thinking about. But maybe… just maybe… yoga could be something to help this terrible pain.

Yoga for Elbow Pain: Starting to Heal

I had another follow-up visit with my surgeon, about two months after the one where he kept telling me how concerned he was by my lack of improvements. During that appointment, I heard the words I needed to hear.

“You are healing.”

At that point, the yoga teacher training program was also about two months underway. I knew in my heart of hearts… it was the yoga. The yoga was helping my elbow heal. Practicing yoga for elbow pain was the best part of my recovery.

It’s interesting. Like me, you might be thinking, “My goodness… how can you complete a yoga teacher training with a healing limb?” Trust me, I wasn’t sure myself. When I signed up for the teacher training program, I emailed the course instructors to inform them of my situation and limited range of motion.

Their response eased my anxieties. The instructors told me that the program was healing on so many levels, not just physical. They assured me that I would complete the program at my own pace in spite of my limitations.

Holism: The Recipe for Recovery

I couldn’t believe it. I graduated the training program and became a registered yoga teacher! All with a bent arm. You know what helped the most? I practiced yoga for elbow pain… every single day.

Sure, my arm wouldn’t straighten. Sure, I was still questioning the timeline for full recovery. Sure, I wanted my arm back the way it was. But I was here… here and now with this injury and CRPS. And I needed to live my life.

If you haven’t yet tried yoga for elbow pain, I highly recommend that you do. Even if you cannot do all of the postures… doesn’t much matter at all.

Personally, I carry my yoga blocks around with me wherever I go. Having a prop, like a block, helps so much. If I am unable to reach the ground because of my bent arm, I can put my hand to the block. If I can’t touch my feet or stretch to reach something, then I use a strap. Props assist me in practice.

Because of my CRPS diagnosis, my OT therapist assigned me a set of four stretches. I did them initially, but now that I am practicing yoga for elbow pain every day, I find that I don’t need them anymore. In fact, the yoga poses are so much more than the few stretches that she gave me.

Finally, yoga isn’t just about the physical. On many levels, my healing has happened because of the yoga on and off my mat. It’s about breathing, coming present, and listening to your body. Yoga heals on deeper levels and allows my elbow to rest and get well.

I am so very grateful I found yoga for elbow pain… and not just because of the pain… because of the pleasure!

Ready to heal after elbow surgery? Check us out and come join us!

About the Author: Elizabeth Scala MSN/MBA, RN, HNB-BC is a board-certified holistic nurse, registered yoga instructor, and reiki master.

Elizabeth received her dual master’s degree from Johns Hopkins University. She is also a certified coach and Reiki Master Teacher. Elizabeth lives in Maryland with her supportive husband and playful pit bull.


  1. Marisha Doan

    Hello, I am recovering from this surgery 7 months and I am a yoga teacher as well. Can you tell me which exercises have been most helpful for you? I can’t really do dolphin anymore because of the plates and screws and wheel or handstand seems like a distant dream. This is the only mention I have seen so far in the internet about yoga and elbow healing so would love more specifics!

    • Elizabeth

      Hi Marisha!
      Great to hear from you. So sorry to hear you also had elbow surgery.
      So, I use the yoga blocks to support me in the poses. They have been life-changing! I can use the blocks to get into postures when I cannot reach with my hand/arm. I also have found qigong exercises have been quite accessible, since they don’t require me to hold my body weight on my arm.
      Hope this helps,


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