Elbow Pain from Lifting Weights: Tennis or Golfer's Elbow?

Nurudeen Tijani (T.J.) Founder of TitaniumPhysique | Pain Relief Fitness Coach

Written by: Nurudeen Tijani
Last updated: June 14, 2024

I've been lifting for ten years, and I've dealt with and overcome many elbow injuries. Here's how I fixed my injuries. Weight lifters and gym-goers often experience elbow pain from lifting weights. Common injuries include tennis and golfer's elbow, triceps and bicep tendonitis, and bursitis. "Weightlifter's elbow" is a term that refers to this group of injuries specifically observed in weightlifting athletes.

To maintain optimal elbow performance, learn how my TitaniumPhysique Program can help you quickly eliminate pain at its source. Get Started Now.

Nurudeen performs bench presses with a weightlifter's elbow

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What is Weightlifter's Elbow?

Weightlifter's elbow is an overuse injury causing pain at the elbow joint due to inflammation of the tendons. It results from repetitive movements, leading to strain and discomfort. Overuse injuries can develop gradually over time (chronic) or occur suddenly (acute) from overloading the tendon.

Additional factors that contribute to this condition include:

  • Insufficient warm-up
  • Inadequate stretching
  • Poor weightlifting form
  • Excessive resistance or weights
  • Muscle restriction
  • Overtraining
  • Inadequate recovery
  • Lack of myofascial release
    Nurudeen has elbow pain from lifting weights during bench presses

    In this photo (2017), I perform bench presses while wearing elbow sleeves to manage discomfort.

    Nurudeen performs skull crushers with a lifter's elbow

    In this photo (2019), I perform tricep extension.

    What Causes Elbow Pain from Lifting Weights?

    Tennis elbow and triceps tendonitis are often associated with lifters. However, they are not the only cause.

    The following are six tendon and elbow injuries that can cause pain. They are listed from most to least common.

    For a deep dive into these conditions, follow the link for a comprehensive FAQ resource.

    1. Tennis elbow (lateral epicondylitis) is a form of tendonitis causing pain at the outer part of the elbow joint due to inflammation of the common extensor tendon. It results from repetitive wrist extension during "push" exercises such as bench presses, push-ups, overhead presses, and tricep pushdowns. According to the National Health Service, this condition is the most common cause of elbow discomfort.
    2. Triceps tendonitis is inflammation of the triceps tendon, resulting in pain at the back of the elbow. This condition is common among athletes because of the repetitive strain on the triceps muscle and tendon during popular "push" or "press" movements.

    3. Golfer's elbow (medial epicondylitis) is another type of tendonitis causing pain at the inside part of the elbow joint due to inflammation of the medial elbow tendon. It results from repetitive wrist flexion during "pull" exercises such as chin-ups, chest flies, bicep curls, lat pulldowns, and cable rows.
    4. Elbow bursitis (olecranon bursitis) is the inflammation of the bursa, a small fluid-filled sac that cushions the joint. This condition often results in swelling, tenderness, and pain at the back of the elbow. Bodybuilders and athletes who frequently engage in intense workouts, heavy lifting, and repetitive elbow movements are more prone to developing this condition.
    5. Distal biceps tendonitis is inflammation of the tendon that attaches the biceps muscle to the radius (forearm bone) just below the elbow. This condition causes pain in the lower biceps near the elbow, primarily during elbow flexion and forearm rotation. Athletes experience discomfort during exercises that involve heavy pulling or lifting motions, such as curls and rows.
    6. Brachialis tendonitis is inflammation or irritation of the brachialis tendon, which connects the upper arm bone (humerus) to the forearm bone (ulna). An injured or restricted brachialis can cause pain, weakness, instability, and swelling on the inside part/crease of the elbow. According to the National Institutes of Health, this condition is rare.

    Important: Although these condition cause discomfort during exercise, they are not the root cause of the pain.

    The root cause of most tendonitis injuries is muscle restriction, which occurs when inelastic muscle fibers shorten and cannot relax and return to their normal state. This muscle condition is what leads to tendonitis. To learn more, check out this resource to discover the root causes of elbow tendonitis.

    An illustration of tennis elbow, the wrist extensor muscles, and the common extensor tendon

    This image illustrates the wrist extensor muscles and the common extensor tendon. The "X" indicated in the image is where trigger points in the muscle tend to occur. Trigger points, 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.

    An illustration of golfer's elbow, the wrist flexors, and the medial elbow tendon

    This photo illustrates the wrist flexor muscles and the medial elbow tendon.

    An illustration of tendonitis in the triceps brachii tendon

    An illustration shows the triceps muscle and tendon.

    An illustration of brachialis, bicep tendonitis, and golfer's elbow

    The photo illustrates differences in brachialis, distal (lower) bicep tendonitis, and medial epicondylitis.

    Symptoms

    I've been lifting for over a decade. During this time, I've experienced and overcome many elbow injuries. What does this condition feel like?

    Here are the signs and symptoms:

    • A burning sensation or pain inside, outside, or at the back part of the elbow during or after exercising
    • Tenderness, swelling, and soreness after working out
    • Sharp (shooting and sudden) or dull pain
    • Difficulty bending and straightening the arm due to tightness and stiffness in the elbow (you might feel this when taking off your shirt after an elbow-intensive workout)
    • Weak grip strength when lifting dumbbells or barbells
    • Discomfort when gripping objects, such as weights, exercise bars, or equipment
    • Increased discomfort when applying pressure to the affected area
    • Pain that worsens with repetitive movements

      For a step-by-step guide to quickly fix muscle and tendon injuries, Get Started Now.

      Nurudeen performs skull crushers

      In this photo (2021), I perform skull crushers.

      Treatments

      To fix and prevent injuries, prioritize proper form, gradually increase weights, allow adequate rest periods, and, most importantly, maintain pliable biceps, triceps, and forearms through self-myofascial release (SMR) exercises.

      SMR exercises address the root cause of elbow tendonitis pain. It is the fastest way to treat and alleviate muscle and tendon injuries. Get Started Now.

      Conventional treatment options provide temporary symptom relief but do not treat the underlying causes. As a result, the pain returns when most athletes resume training.

      Here are common conventional treatments and their pros and cons:

      • Joint Supplements & Health Vitamins: Provide short-term relief but do not fix the root causes of the pain and injury.
      • Painkillers (NSAIDs): Temporarily reduce inflammation and pain but only address symptoms and may cause long-term health issues.
      • Joint Injection (Cortisone Shot): Offers temporary relief but may lead to long-term side effects and does not address the root cause.
      • Topical Anti-Inflammatory Remedies: Effective for acute pain but not chronic conditions; provides little relief for long-term injuries.
      • Strength Therapy & Physical Therapy: Important for tendinosis recovery but may be ineffective without addressing underlying issues like inflammation and muscle restriction.
      • Compression Sleeves, Straps, and Braces: Provide temporary relief but don't treat the root cause and can lead to prolonged symptoms.
      • Sports & Kinesiology Tape Therapy: Temporarily relieves pain but can mask underlying issues, potentially prolonging tendonitis.
      • Pain Relief Patches: Offer short-term relief but don't address root causes; may have long-term side effects.
      • Stretching Therapy: Important for healing and prevention of injury but may be ineffective without addressing underlying issues like inflammation and muscle restriction.

      If you're looking for a fast and effective way to maintain optimal elbow health, learn how my TitaniumPhysique Program can help you quickly eliminate pain at its source. Get Started Now

      Related Articles

      If you have questions about specific exercises, I've prepared these deep-dive FAQ resources that might help.

      Here are my best tips for keeping your elbows healthy.

      Resources

      • Weightlifting: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Weightlifting

      • Tennis elbow: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/tennis-elbow/

      • Elbow pain: a guide to assessment and management in primary care
        https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4617264/

      • Tendon Pathophysiology: https://www.physio-pedia.com/Tendon_Pathophysiology
      • Combined Treatment With Chondroitin Sulfate and Glucosamine Sulfate Shows No Superiority Over Placebo for Reduction of Joint Pain and Functional Impairment in Patients With Knee Osteoarthritis: A Six‐Month Multicenter, Randomized, Double‐Blind, Placebo‐Controlled Clinical Trial: https://acrjournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1002/art.39819
      • What You Should Know About Cortisone Shots: https://www.hss.edu/conditions_cortisone-shots.asp#shot-duration
      • THE EFFECTS OF SELF‐MYOFASCIAL RELEASE USING A FOAM ROLL OR ROLLER MASSAGER ON JOINT RANGE OF MOTION, MUSCLE RECOVERY, AND PERFORMANCE: A SYSTEMATIC REVIEW: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4637917/
      • Treatment of Tendinopathy: What Works, What Does Not, and What is on the Horizon: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2505250/
      • Brachialis tendinopathy: a rare cause of antecubital pain and ultrasound-guided injection technique
        https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8363688/

      • Patient education: Elbow tendinopathy (tennis and golf elbow) (Beyond the Basics)
        https://www.uptodate.com/contents/elbow-tendinopathy-tennis-and-golf-elbow-beyond-the-basics

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