Elbow Pain from Tricep Dips (A Helpful Guide)

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

Written by: Nurudeen Tijani

Last updated: May 30, 2024

I've been working out for ten years, and I've dealt with and overcome many elbow injuries. Here's how I fixed my elbows. The primary cause of elbow pain from tricep dips is restricted triceps and forearm muscles that strain the elbow tendons during the movement. To prevent discomfort, maintain pliable triceps and forearms through self-myofascial release exercises. These exercises can instantly relieve the restrictions in the muscles and minimize the risk of injury, overuse, and inflammation.

Take the first step to eliminate muscle and tendon pain. Get Started Now.

Nurudeen has elbow pain from tricep dips while exercising
YouTube video

Understanding Elbow Pain from Tricep Dips


Why do I have pain in my elbow during tricep dips and how do I fix it?

Elbow pain during tricep dips can occur for several reasons, including:

    1. Restricted triceps and forearms (shortened, tight, and tense muscles)
    2. Inadequate stretching or warm-up of these muscles before working out
    3. Using excessive resistance
    4. Incorrect form or lifting technique
    5. Overtraining
    6. Inadequate recovery
    7. Lack of myofascial release

    These factors, or a combination of them, can cause your elbow to hurt during tricep dips. Yet, for most people, the primary cause is restricted triceps and forearms that strain the elbow tendons due to lack of myofascial release.

    To prevent this condition, prioritize proper form, gradually increase resistance, and, most importantly, maintain pliable triceps and forearms through self-myofascial release "SMR" exercises.

    SMR involves using tools like foam rollers or massage balls to release tight and tense muscles. Restricted muscles exert tension and strain tendons. When you release these muscles, they become more pliable and elastic, reducing the pulling tension on the tendon and joint.

    SMR is the fastest way to treat and alleviate muscle and tendon pain. Follow the step-by-step guidance of the TitaniumPhysique Program to see fast results. Get Started Now.

    Why does my elbow hurt after doing tricep dips?

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

    Acute elbow pain is an inflammatory pain experienced during or immediately after working out. In this case, acute elbow pain includes:

    • Burning pain felt around the tip and joint of the elbow after dips.
    • A sensation of heat, swelling, or redness around the elbow after dips.
    • Sore elbows after a tricep dip workout.
    • Elbow pain when bending and straightening the arm after dips.
    • Sharp or severe elbow pain during or after dips.
    A comparison photo of the forearm extensors and triceps muscle/tendon

    A side-by-side comparison photo of the forearm extensors and triceps muscle. Left photo: Illustration of the forearm extensor muscle group and tendon. Right photo: Illustration of the shoulder joint, scapula, arm bone, and triceps brachii muscle and tendon. When these muscle groups become shortened, they cause pain on the outside and back part of the elbow during tricep dips.

    The "X" indicated on each photo is where trigger points in the forearm extensors 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

    Why am I experiencing pain inside, outside, or back of my elbow while doing tricep dips?

    If you experience pain on the inside, outside, or back of your elbow while doing tricep dips, the cause is usually a combination of the following factors: 1) restricted triceps and forearm muscles, and 2) an inflamed triceps tendon and/or elbow tendon.

    During tricep dips, the forearm flexors, forearm extensors, and triceps muscles extend and contract, which can pull and put tension on the inner and outer elbow tendon as well as the triceps tendon.

    The forearm flexor muscles can overstretch and inflame the tendon on the inside part of the elbow, causing inner elbow pain (known as golfer's elbow). The forearm extensor muscles can overstretch and inflame the tendon on the outer part of the elbow joint, causing outer elbow pain (known as tennis elbow). Finally, the triceps muscle can overstretch and inflame the triceps tendon, causing pain at the back of the elbow (known as triceps tendinitis).

    Inner, outer, and pain at the back of the elbow can be chronic (develop over time) or acute (occur suddenly from overloading the elbow). Acute pain is an inflammatory pain experienced during or immediately after exercise. In this case, experiencing inner, outer, or at the back of the elbow while doing dips is a sign of acute elbow pain.

    Check out this 2016 video of me performing weighted bench dips, a variation of tricep dips, at the gym.

    Why do I suddenly have (feel) elbow pain during tricep dips 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 (i.e. shortened and inelastic). This process of muscle restriction can take months or years to develop.

    When the triceps and forearm 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. a routine tricep dips workout) can suddenly trigger elbow pain.

    Unfortunately, most people do not realize their forearm or triceps are restricted until a routine activity unexpectedly triggers elbow pain. This point is the biggest takeaway from this article.

    Whenever someone tells me they have elbow discomfort, I show them how to perform the forearm pliability test (see the video below).

    During the test, most people will feel a dull but intense pain in the area, usually within a few seconds. Every time I have performed this test on friends at the gym, they are surprised by the tense and restricted states of these muscles.

    Note: In the video, I tested the forearm extensor muscles, which causes tennis elbow. However, the same muscle conditions are likely present in the triceps.

    YouTube video

    What causes pain in the elbow during tricep dips?

    When you perform an exercise involving the arm, such as tricep dips, the triceps and forearm muscles contract. Over time, as you exercise, the forearm flexor, forearm extensor, and triceps muscles become tighter and shorter.

    Shortened triceps and forearm muscles can pull and put tension on the elbow and triceps tendon, which reduces the tendons' elasticity. As a result, the tendons become overloaded and inflamed, causing elbow pain during dips and other tricep exercises.

    The pain usually occurs on the inside and outside part of the elbow (golfer's elbow and tennis elbow), or at the back of the elbow (triceps tendonitis). The elbow tendons that cause elbow pain during tricep dips include the medial elbow tendon (inner elbow tendon), extensor elbow tendon (outer elbow tendon), and triceps brachii tendon (located at the back of the elbow).

    For a deep dive into the root causes of elbow tendonitis, elbow bursitis, chronic versus acute pain, and the fastest way to fix these conditions, you can check out these helpful resources:

    A comparison photo of the forearm extensors and flexor muscles

    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 dips.

    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

    Impact of Tricep Dips on Elbows


    Are tricep dips bad for the elbows?

    When performed with good technique, tricep dips (including bodyweight dip, bar dip, chair dip, bench dip, machine dip, and assisted dip variations) is not bad for the elbows. However, performing the dips without proper warm-up, using too much resistance, or suddenly increasing training volume can overload the elbow and triceps tendons, leading to elbow tendonitis and pain.

    Can tricep dips cause elbow pain?

    Tricep dips do not cause elbow pain when performed with proper technique. However, it can trigger or aggravate elbow tendonitis, elbow pain, forearm pain, and wrist pain. Push exercises like the tricep dips engage the forearm muscles, triceps muscles, elbow tendons, and triceps tendon. During dips, the forearm and triceps muscles can become overloaded. This can lead to overstretched, strained, and inflamed elbow tendons, resulting in acute sharp pain or worsening chronic dull pain.

    Can tricep dips cause elbow damage?

    Tricep dips do not cause elbow damage when performed with proper technique. However, for individuals who already have elbow tendonitis, performing dips can exacerbate chronic pain or trigger acute elbow pain, potentially leading to elbow tendinosis.

    Tendinosis is a condition characterized by the degeneration of tendon collagen due to repetitive stress and chronic injury. It can cause a loss of strength in the tendon and may even lead to tendon tear or rupture. Thus, performing tricep dips with pre-existing elbow tendonitis or triceps tendonitis (i.e., inflammatory tendon pain) can increase the risk of developing elbow tendinosis and potentially cause damage to the elbows.

    Can you hurt your elbow doing tricep dips?

    Performing tricep dips with proper technique is safe and will not cause injury to the elbow. However, insufficient warm-up and stretching of the triceps, forearm muscles, elbow tendons, and triceps tendon, using too much resistance, bad form/technique, a sudden increase in training volume, and doing dips while experiencing ongoing elbow or triceps tendonitis can cause elbow pain and injury.

    Managing and Preventing Elbow Pain


    Can I still do tricep dips with elbow pain?

    It depends on the severity of the pain. If the pain is mild, most people can use sports tape, kinesiology tape, elbow sleeves, elbow braces, elbow straps, or other short-term relief solutions to reduce elbow pain during tricep dips. However, if the pain is chronic, severe, or causes sharp pain during dips, it's best to treat the underlying cause of the pain before resuming strength training.

    Which tricep dip variation is better to avoid elbow pain: body weight, assisted, or machine dips?

    All three variations of dips have the potential to trigger or aggravate elbow pain, but the assisted dip machine is better for avoiding such pain. Here's why:

    Performing dips with the assisted dip machine allows you to use enough "assisted weight" to perform the exercise while still alleviating tension in the triceps and forearm muscles/tendons, thereby reducing pressure on the elbow and preventing elbow pain. In contrast, seated machine dips are more effective for building larger triceps, which allows for heavier weights, but this also increases the likelihood of overloading, straining, and inflaming the elbow and triceps tendon.

    Therefore, if you experience elbow pain during tricep dips, the assisted dip machine is less likely to trigger or aggravate the pain. Alternatively, you can try other triceps exercises instead of tricep dips (see below).

    What are some alternative exercises to tricep dips when experiencing elbow pain?

    Since tricep dips can put excessive tension on the triceps and elbow tendons, there are alternative exercises that can minimize tension on these areas and cause less pain in the elbow joint. Here are seven alternatives to tricep dips that you can try. You can also try performing partial reps, meaning not fully contracting or extending the triceps muscle during the exercise, to further alleviate tension on the triceps and elbow tendon/joint.

    1. Band Back Fly
    2. Cable Kneeling Triceps Extension
    3. Machine Triceps Extension
    4. Machine Assisted Dips
    5. Cable High Pulley Triceps Extension
    6. Cable Triceps Kickback
    7. Close Grip Dumbbell Press

    How long does it take to heal elbow pain caused by tricep dips?

    Using a combination of post-workout treatments such as cold therapy (to relieve burning pain), magnesium supplementation (to reduce inflammation), and self-myofascial release (to relieve sharp or dull pain), it's possible to heal elbow pain from tricep dips within 7-10 days.

    This will require performing self-myofascial release (SMR) on the triceps and forearm muscles at least 2-3 times daily.

    Get step-by-step guidance with my TitaniumPhysique Program to ensure you do these exercises correctly and effectively, and see results as fast as possible. Get Started Now.

    Keep in mind that simply resting the elbow (i.e., taking a break from physical activity) might temporarily provide relief, but it will not fix the root cause of the pain (e.g., restricted triceps and forearm muscles that overload the elbow tendons and cause elbow pain during dips).

    How do I perform tricep dips without elbow pain?

    As mentioned earlier, tricep dips is a safe exercise when performed correctly. However, if you experience elbow pain due to conditions such as golfer's elbow, tennis elbow, or triceps tendonitis, performing this exercise can worsen the pain.

    To minimize elbow pain during dips, consider the following tips:

    1. Stretch your forearm and triceps muscles before starting your workout.
    2. Use the assisted dip machine instead of the dip bar or seated dip machine.
    3. If performing weighted dips, perform two warm-up sets with lighter weights before increasing the weight.
    4. Use lifting straps to reduce forearm muscle tension from gripping the dip bars.
    5. Consider wearing elbow sleeves or wraps to compress the elbow and triceps tendon.

      What options do I have to stop my elbows from hurting during dips?

      To stop elbow pain during dips, you have two approaches: short-term relief remedies and addressing the root cause of the pain.

      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 prevent pain from affecting your tricep dip workouts, fix the root cause. Address muscle restriction by achieving improved muscle pliability in the forearm, triceps, and biceps.

      Learn how my TitaniumPhysique Program can help you quickly eliminate pain at its source. Get Started Now.

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