How do the elbow and forearm contribute to daily movements?
Let’s break down some real-life elbow and forearm movements. In our previous article, Exploring the Elbow Joint and the Forearm, we took a look at the major bones, joints, and muscles that make movement of the elbow and forearm possible. Now let’s apply those basics and look at some examples of how we use the elbow and forearm in daily life.
To review: the elbow actually consists of multiple joints. We have two joints that create the flexion and extension movement of the elbow: the humeroulnar joint and the humeroradial joint. These are the places where the two forearm bones meet the upper arm bone. We have another joint, the proximal radioulnar joint that allows for rotation of the forearm, known as pronation and supination.
There are eight muscles that cross one or more of these joints, including:
Flexors of the elbow:
- Biceps brachii
Extensors of the elbow:
- Triceps brachii
Pronators of the forearm:
- Pronator teres
- Pronator quadratus
- Brachioradialis (assists pronation)
Supinators of the forearm:
- Supinator muscle
- Biceps brachii (assists supination)
Elbow and forearm movements in daily life
So, let’s apply our understanding of the basic movements at the elbow joint to some more complex movements from daily life. One place where we routinely use our elbow and forearm is the seemingly simple act of turning a doorknob. We would likely need to flex our elbow to bring our hand up to the doorknob and then we would do supination of the forearm if we were turning the doorknob to the right. The hand and wrist would be involved too, of course, in order to hold the doorknob and carry out our intended action of turning it.
We also use our elbow and forearm just about every time we eat a meal. Unless we are eating a smoothie through a straw, we are using our elbow and forearm when we eat. We would flex the elbow to bring a fork or spoon up to our mouth and then use some amount of either pronation or supination to more finely position our hand holding the utensil as we bring the food to our mouth. We would reverse the process, extend the elbow and do some pronation or supination to bring our hand holding the utensil back down to our plate to get another bite of food.
Elbow and forearm movements in sports
The elbow often gets mentioned in relation to both tennis and golf, as these sports are frequently associated with overuse injuries at the elbow joint. But, in this post, let’s just focus on what movements might be happening at the elbow joint in common actions within each of these sports.
In a tennis overhead serve, for example, the elbow will flex to prepare and then rapidly extend as the player sends the racket towards the ball in the air. In a golf swing, we have a similar action. The golfer will need to flex the elbows to bring the golf club back and prepare to swing, then extend the forearms from the elbow to complete the swing. Obviously, the shoulder, as well as the hand and wrist are all a part of this kinetic chain and are involved in each of these movements too. We’re just looking more closely here to see specifically what the elbow joint is doing in these actions.
As you focus in more closely, you can see how actions that we usually take for granted, like turning a doorknob, are actually quite complex. You can try this for yourself as you do simple, routine actions during the day. Try asking yourself during these actions, what actions are my elbow and forearm doing?
Do you want to learn more about the elbow and forearm? Check out these posts: Exploring The Elbow Joint And Forearm and Elbow Overuse Injury: Golfer's Elbow And Tennis Elbow.