Why do I have pain in my elbow during bicep curls?

Written by: Nurudeen Tijani

The article below answers common questions about elbow pain during or after bicep curlsHowever, if you want an immediate solution, you can get instant access to TitaniumPhysique. Our program will guide you to a pain-free lifting experience. Ready to get started?

Elbow pain during bicep curl | Nurudeen Tijani performing preacher curls with barbell at gym
Bicep curl elbow pain | Nurudeen Tijani performing preacher curls with barbell at gym

Bicep Curl and Elbow Pain (FAQs)


1.  Why do I have pain in my elbow during bicep curls and how do I fix it?

Elbow pain during bicep curls can occur for several reasons, including restricted forearm muscles, inadequate warm-up of the biceps, triceps, and forearm muscles before exercising, excessive resistance (e.g., heavy preacher curls), poor form or lifting technique during bicep curls, and a sudden increase in training volume (i.e., performing an excessive amount of bicep curl sets).

These factors, individually or in combination, can cause your elbow to hurt during bicep curls. However, the primary cause for most athletes is restricted (shortened, tight, and tense) triceps and forearm muscles.

To cure or prevent this condition, prioritize proper form, gradually increase resistance, and, most importantly, maintain pliable triceps and forearm muscles through self-myofascial release (SMR) exercises. These exercises can instantly relieve the restrictions in the muscles and minimize the risk of injury, overuse, and inflammation.

2.  Why does my elbow hurt after doing bicep curls?

"Pull" exercises such as bicep curls can trigger or aggravate elbow pain because the exercise involve the triceps and elbow tendons. The repetitive use of the elbow during bicep curls can strain and inflame the elbow tendons and elbow joint. When the elbow tendons become inflamed, it causes acute elbow pain after the workout - this is what causes your elbow to hurt after doing bicep curls.

Acute elbow pain is an inflammatory pain experienced during or immediately after working out. In the case of a bicep curl workout, it includes:

  • Burning pain around the elbow joint after bicep curls
  • A sensation of heat, swelling, or redness around elbow joint after bicep curls
  • Sore elbow after bicep curls
  • Elbow pain when bending and straightening arm after bicep curls
A side-by-side comparison photo of the triceps and forearm flexor muscles. Illustration of the shoulder joint, scapula, arm bone, and triceps brachii muscle and tendon. Illustration of the forearm flexor muscles and tendon

A side-by-side comparison photo of the triceps and forearm flexor muscles. Left photo: Illustration of the shoulder joint, scapula, arm bone, and triceps brachii muscle and tendon. Right photo: Illustration of the forearm flexor muscles and tendon. When these muscles groups become shortened, they cause posterior and inner elbow pain during bicep curl. The "X" indicated on each photo is where trigger points in the forearm flexors and triceps muscle tend to occur. Trigger points, also known as muscle knots, are small, hyperirritable spots within a muscle. They cause pain and tenderness and can develop due to muscle overuse, stress, or injury. Image source: Google

3.  Why am I experiencing inner elbow pain while doing bicep curls?

If you experience inner elbow pain while doing bicep curls, the cause is usually a combination of restricted (tight and shortened) triceps and forearm muscles and an inflamed elbow tendon. During biceps curl, the forearm flexor muscles contract, and the triceps muscle extends, and as a result, they pull and put tension on the elbow and triceps tendons.

The forearm flexor muscles can place excessive demand on the inner elbow tendon and cause inner elbow pain (also known as golfer's elbow). Likewise, the triceps muscles can exert tension on the tendon at the back of the elbow and cause posterior elbow pain (triceps tendonitis).

Inner elbow pain can be chronic (develops over time) or acute (occurs suddenly from overloading the elbow). Acute pain is an inflammatory pain experienced during or immediately after an exercise. In this case, experiencing inner elbow pain while doing bicep curls is a sign of acute elbow pain.

Nurudeen performing bicep curls (barbell curls and seated dumbbell curls) at the gym (2017). The bicep curl is a "pull" exercise. It targets and develops the biceps muscle (biceps brachii and brachialis). "Pull" exercises such as bicep curls can aggravate golfer's elbow (pain on the inner part of the elbow), triceps tendonitis (pain at the back of the elbow), and tennis elbow or lateral epicondylitis (pain on the outside part of the elbow).

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4.  Why do I suddenly have (feel) elbow pain during bicep curls without apparent cause?

The muscle conditions that lead to elbow pain are gradual and cumulative. Through repetitive use and over time, the forearm muscles and triceps muscle become restricted (shortened, inelastic). This process of muscle restriction can take months or years to develop.

When the triceps muscles become chronically restricted (lasting over three months), a routine activity at home or work (carrying a bag of groceries, holding or gripping something tightly), or at the gym (e.g. routine bicep curls workout) can suddenly trigger elbow painUnfortunately, most people do not realize their forearm or triceps are restricted until a routine activity unexpectedly triggers elbow pain.

5.  What causes pain in the elbow during bicep curls?

The forearm muscles contract when you perform exercises involving your arms (such as bicep curls). Over time as you exercise, the forearm extensor muscles, forearm flexor muscles, and triceps muscles become tighter and shorter. Shortened forearm muscles and triceps muscle pull and put tension on the elbow tendons and decrease the elasticity of the elbow tendon. As a result, the elbow tendons get overloaded and inflamed causing elbow pain during bicep curls.

The pain usually occurs inside of the elbow (golfer's elbow), outside the elbow (tennis elbow), or at the back of the elbow (triceps tendonitis). The elbow tendons that cause elbow pain during biceps curl include the extensor elbow tendon (outside elbow tendon), medial elbow tendon (inside elbow tendon), and triceps brachii tendon (posterior elbow tendon).

For a detailed article on the root causes of elbow pain, including the types of elbow tendonitis (tennis elbow, golfer's elbow, triceps tendonitis), elbow bursitis, chronic vs. acute elbow pain, and the fastest way to resolve these conditions, read our helpful guide on elbow pain.

Important: Apart from musculoskeletal injuries (muscle and tendon-related pain), other medical conditions can contribute to elbow pain during curls. These include nerve entrapment and compression, bone fractures and dislocations, and arthritis, which causes joint inflammation, pain, and stiffness. If your condition is medically related, it's important to consult your healthcare provider to ensure no structural issues with your elbow.

A side-by-side comparison photo of forearm extensors and flexor muscles. Left photo: Illustration of the forearm extensor muscle group and tendon. Right photo: Illustration of the forearm flexor muscles and tendon

A side-by-side comparison photo of the forearm extensors and flexor muscles. Left photo: Illustration of the forearm extensor muscle group and tendon. Right photo: Illustration of the forearm flexor muscles and tendon. When these muscles groups become shortened, they cause outer and inner elbow pain during curls. The "X" indicated on each photo is where trigger points in the forearm muscles tend to occur. Trigger points cause pain and tenderness and can develop due to muscle overuse, stress, or injury. Image source: Google

6.  Is biceps curl elbow pain the same as biceps tendonitis?

"Biceps curl elbow pain" (golfer's elbow) differs from biceps tendonitis. Golfer's elbow or medial epicondylitis is inflammation of the medial elbow tendon. If you experience inner elbow pain during a bicep curl, it's likely golfer's elbow.

Biceps tendonitis is inflammation of the upper biceps tendon, which attaches the long head of the biceps muscle (outer biceps muscle) to the shoulder blade bone. Bicep tendonitis often causes pain, stiffness, or weakness at the front of the shoulder during biceps curl. Check out our helpful guide, Shoulder Pain from Lifting Weights, to learn more about shoulder pain.

7.  Are bicep curls bad for elbows?

When performed with good technique, the bicep curl is not bad for the elbow. However, performing bicep curls without first warming up (for example, stretching the forearm, triceps, and biceps muscle), using excessive weight, or a sudden increase in training volume (for example, performing an excessive amount of bicep curl sets) can overload the elbow tendons and triceps tendon, and cause elbow tendonitis and elbow pain.

nurudeen tijani performing barbell bicep curl at gym, wearing black hat

Nurudeen performing barbell curls during a biceps workout at gym (2019). Barbell curls is a powerful exercise to build massive arms. Unlike seated bicep curls, standing barbell curls allows for more weights and "cheating reps". A cheating rep is when you use your legs and back to curl the weights up for maximum failure during a set. During heavy barbell curls, it's easier for the forearm muscles to get overloaded, which can trigger both inner elbow pain and outer elbow pain.

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8.  Is preacher curls bad for elbows?

When performed properly with good technique, preacher curls is not bad for the elbow and does not cause elbow problems. However, preacher curls can trigger or aggravate elbow tendonitis and elbow pain.

The preacher curl exercise isolate and target the biceps brachii (the long and short head of the biceps muscle). The exercise involve the biceps muscle, forearm muscles, triceps muscle, triceps tendon, and elbow tendons (medial and lateral tendons).

During preacher curls, the forearm muscles and triceps tendon can get overloaded; and as a result, it can overstretch and inflame the elbow tendons and triceps tendon, and causes acute elbow pain or aggravate chronic elbow pain. Preacher curls can aggravate golfer's elbow (inner elbow pain) and triceps tendonitis (posterior elbow pain).

9.  Can bicep curls cause elbow pain?

Bicep curls do not cause elbow pain when performed properly with good technique. However, bicep curls can trigger or aggravate elbow tendonitis, elbow pain, and forearm pain.

"Pull" exercises such as bicep curls involve the biceps muscle, forearm muscles, triceps muscle, elbow tendons, and elbow joint. During bicep curls, the forearm muscles can get overloaded. When the forearm muscles become overloaded, it can overstretch and inflame the elbow tendons and cause acute elbow pain (sharp pain) or aggravate chronic elbow pain (dull pain).

10.  Can bicep curls damage the elbows?

When performed properly with good technique, bicep curls do not damage elbows. However, for a person experiencing elbow tendonitis, bicep curls can trigger acute elbow pain or aggravate chronic elbow pain, leading to elbow tendinosis.

Tendinosis is the deterioration of tendon collagen due to repetitive stress and chronic injury. Tendinosis results in the loss of strength in the tendon and often leads to tendon tear or rupture. So, doing bicep curls with elbow tendonitis (i.e., inflammatory elbow pain) can lead to elbow tendinosis (i.e., degeneration of elbow tendon) and damage the elbows.

nurudeen performing one-arm machine preacher curls at gym 2022

Nurudeen performing one-arm machine preacher curls during biceps workout (2022). Click here to watch the video. Machine preacher curls isolate and target the biceps muscle (long head and short head of biceps), the brachialis (a muscle located beneath the biceps), and the forearm flexor muscles. It's an effective exercise to add size and increase the peak of the biceps. Preacher curl is a "pull" exercise; it can trigger inside elbow pain (golfer's elbow) and posterior elbow pain (triceps tendonitis). Preacher curls can also overload the forearm flexor muscles and trigger forearm pain and wrist pain.

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11.  Can you hurt your elbow doing bicep curls?

When performed properly with good technique, the bicep curl is a safe exercise and will not cause injury to the elbow. However, any or a combination of the following factors can cause you to hurt your elbow during curls:

  • Inadequate warm-up of the biceps, forearms, elbow tendons, and triceps tendon before doing bicep curls
  • Inadequate stretching of the biceps, triceps, and forearms before doing bicep curls
  • Using excessive weights (e.g. heavy preacher curls)
  • Bad bicep curls form or technique. To learn proper bicep curl technique, check out this article.
  • Sudden increase in training volume (i.e. performing an excessive amount of bicep curl sets)
  • Doing bicep curls while experiencing ongoing mild-to-severe elbow tendonitis

          12.  Can I still do bicep curls with elbow pain?

          It depends on the severity of the elbow pain. Suppose the elbow tendonitis causes "low to mild" pain. In that case, most people can use sports tape, kino tape, elbow sleeves, elbow brace, elbow straps, or other conventional treatment options to reduce elbow pain during bicep curls. If the elbow tendonitis is chronic and severe or causes sharp pain in the elbow during bicep curls, it's best to treat the root cause before resuming physical training.

          13.  How long does it take to heal elbow pain from curls (sharp, severe, burning, or dull pain)?

          It's possible to stop and relieve elbow pain (inner, outer, posterior pain) from bicep curl by releasing the forearm flexor muscles, forearm extensor muscles, and triceps muscles. You can accomplish this by using a myofascial release massage ball. Once the restricted muscles in the forearm and triceps are released, it will alleviate the tension on the elbow tendons, allowing them to heal.

          Using a combination of post-workout treatments, for example - RICE therapy (to relieve burning pain), magnesium supplementation (to reduce inflammation), and self-myofascial release (SMR), it's possible to heal sharp and severe forearm or elbow pain from bicep curls within 7-10 days. To accomplish this, it will require performing self-myofascial release on the forearms and triceps, at least 2-3 times a day.

          Remember that simply resting the elbow (i.e., taking a break from physical training) might temporarily provide relief. Still, it will not fix the underlying cause of the injury (e.g., restricted triceps and forearm muscles that overload the elbow tendons and cause elbow pain during a bicep curl).

          nurudeen performing cable bicep curls at gym 2022

          Nurudeen performing cable bicep curls during biceps workout (2022). Click here to watch the video. Cable bicep curls are a variation of the barbell bicep curl exercise. However, unlike barbell bicep curls which use gravity as resistance, cable bicep curls use the cable as resistance to stimulate the biceps muscle to grow. Like most "pull" exercises, the cable bicep curl exercise can trigger inner elbow pain (golfer's elbow), outer elbow pain (tennis elbow), and forearm muscle pain.

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          nurudeen performing hammer curls at gym 2022

          Nurudeen performing hammer curls with dumbbells during biceps workout (2022). Click here to watch video. Hammer curls target the outside bicep muscle (aka long head of the biceps); the brachialis (a muscle located beneath the biceps), and the brachioradialis (a forearm muscles). Hammer curls can trigger outside elbow pain and triceps tendonitis (posterior elbow pain).

          14.  What options do I have to stop my elbows from hurting during bicep curls?

          To stop elbow pain during bicep curls, you have two approaches: short-term relief remedies and addressing the root cause of the pain to prevent its recurrence.

          Short-term pain relief remedies include joint supplements and vitamins, anti-inflammatory painkillers (NSAIDs), physical therapy, stretching, ice and rest therapy, elbow braces, elbow straps, kinesiology tape, and topical anti-inflammatory solutions (oils and creams).

          To permanently cure elbow pain and prevent it from affecting your workouts, it's essential to address the root causes, which include chronic inflammation, magnesium deficiency, and muscle restriction. The TitaniumPhysique Program can help you achieve this goal.

          15.  How can I avoid and prevent elbow pain during bicep curls?

          Important: part of avoiding chronic elbow pain is preventing acute elbow pain. If you feel elbow pain during bicep curls, reduce the weight. If the pain persists, stop the exercise and train another body part that does not involve your elbow. Pushing through a workout with elbow pain will intensify the degree of post-workout acute inflammation, worsen the pain symptoms, and prolong the recovery of the elbow.

          To avoid and prevent elbow pain, follow these steps:

          1. Stretch the biceps, forearms, and triceps before doing bicep curls. Check out this article for examples of forearm stretches.
          2. Start your biceps workout by warming the elbow tendons (e.g., resistance band pull-apart).
          3. If performing heavy barbell or preacher curls, incrementally add weights to avoid sudden overload of the forearm muscles, triceps tendon, and elbow tendons.
          4. Learn and always good bicep curl exercise technique. Check out this article to learn more.
          5. Incrementally increase training volume (i.e., be mindful about doing excessive bicep curl sets).
          6. Supplement with magnesium to heal and decalcify the elbow tendons. Magnesium also relaxes muscles to reduce pain.
          7. Incorporate self-myofascial release for elbow pain into your recovery routine. Perform SMR on the forearm extensors, forearm flexors, and triceps muscle/tendon at least twice a week to keep the forearms and triceps pliable.

          Remember restricted triceps and forearm muscles that cause elbow pain develop over many years. It is necessary to use the correct treatment techniques to get lasting results. If you want an easy-to-follow video guide, you can click here to access the TitaniumPhysique Program.

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          Written by: Nurudeen Tijani

          Nurudeen (aka TJ) is passionate about helping people build the body they desire through weight training. He is a physique and fitness trainer, nutritionist, yoga instructor, vegan natural bodybuilder, National Physique Committee (NPC) competitor, and founder at TitaniumPhysique. Nurudeen is a member of the International Association Study of Pain (IASP) and the American Chronic Pain Association (ACPA).

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