Elbow Pain from Tricep Extension (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 lifting 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 extension 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 extension while exercising

Understanding Elbow Pain from Tricep Extension


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

Elbow pain during tricep extensions 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 exercising
  3. Excessive resistance
  4. Poor form or lifting technique
  5. Overtraining
  6. Inadequate recovery
  7. Lack of myofascial release

Any of these factors, or a combination of them, can cause your elbow to hurt during tricep extensions. 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 elbow pain, prioritize proper form, gradually increase weights, 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 extension?

"Push-exercises" such as tricep extension can trigger or aggravate elbow pain because the exercise involves the triceps and elbow tendons. The repetitive use of the elbow during extensions 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 extension.

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 extensions.
  • A sensation of heat, swelling, or redness around the elbow after extensions.
  • Sore elbows after a tricep extension workout.
  • Elbow pain when bending and straightening the arm after extensions.
  • Sharp or severe elbow pain during or after extensions.
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 in the elbow during tricep extension.

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 extension?

If you experience pain on the inside, outside, or back of your elbow while doing tricep extension, 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 extension, the forearm flexors, forearm extensors, and triceps muscles extend and contract, which can pull and put tension on the inner and outer elbow tendons as well as the triceps tendon, leading to pain in those areas.

The forearm flexor muscles can overstretch and inflame the tendon on the inner part of the elbow, causing inner elbow pain (known as golfer's elbow). The forearm extensor muscles can overstretch and irritate the tendon on the outer part of the elbow, causing outer elbow pain (known as tennis elbow). Finally, the triceps muscle can overstretch and overload 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 pain at the back of the elbow while doing extension is a sign of acute elbow pain.

Check out this 2021 video of me performing the barbell lying tricep extension during a shoulder and arms workout at the gym.

Why do I suddenly have (feel) elbow pain during tricep extension without apparent cause?

The conditions that lead to elbow pain during tricep extension are gradual and cumulative. Over time, the forearm and triceps muscles can become restricted, meaning they become shortened and inelastic through repetitive use. This process of muscle restriction can take months or even years to develop.

When the triceps and forearm muscles become chronically restricted for over three months, a routine activity, whether at home or work (such as carrying a bag of groceries or holding or gripping something tightly), or at the gym (such as a routine tricep extension workout), can suddenly trigger elbow pain without an apparent cause.

Unfortunately, most people are unaware that their forearm or triceps muscles 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 extension?

When you perform an exercise involving the arm, such as tricep extension, the triceps and forearm muscles contract. Over time, as you exercise, the forearm flexors, forearm extensors, 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 extensions 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 extension include the medial elbow tendon (inner elbow tendon), extensor elbow tendon (outer elbow tendon), and triceps 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 explore these additional 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 extensions.

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 Extensions on Elbows


Is tricep extension bad for the elbows?

When performed with good technique, tricep extension (overhead extension, lying extension, seated extension, barbell extension, dumbbell extension, cable rope extension, seated machine extension, and smith machine extension) is not bad for the elbows. However, performing tricep extension 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 extension cause elbow pain?

When performed with proper technique, tricep extension does not cause elbow pain. However, it can trigger or aggravate elbow tendonitis, elbow pain, forearm pain, and wrist pain. Push-exercises like the tricep extension engage the forearm muscles, triceps muscle, elbow tendons, and triceps tendon. During extensions, 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 extension cause elbow damage?

When performed with proper technique, tricep extension does not cause elbow damage. However, individuals with elbow tendonitis may experience exacerbation of chronic pain or the development of 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 result in loss of strength in the tendon and may even lead to tendon tear or rupture. Therefore, performing tricep extension 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 extension?

Performing tricep extension 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, sudden increase in training volume, and doing extensions while experiencing ongoing elbow or triceps tendonitis can cause elbow pain and injury.

Managing and Preventing Elbow Pain


Can I still do tricep extension with elbow pain?

Whether or not you can still do tricep extension with elbow pain depends on the severity of the pain. If it's mild, you can try using temporary solutions such as sports tape, kinesiology tape, elbow sleeves, elbow braces, or elbow straps to reduce pain during the exercise. However, if the pain is chronic, severe, or causes sharp pain during tricep extension, it's best to treat the underlying cause of the pain before resuming strength training.

Can tricep extension help to reduce elbow pain?

Tricep extension is an exercise that may help alleviate elbow pain. This claim is based on the fact that tricep extension can help strengthen the triceps muscle and tendon, which are responsible for extending the elbow.

When the triceps tendon is injured due to wear and tear or a tear injury, it can cause the elbow joint to become weak, leading to elbow pain. In such cases, tricep extension can help strengthen the triceps and elbow tendon, thereby beginning the regenerative process of restoring elbow mobility and strength.

However, before engaging in any exercise to alleviate elbow pain, it is essential to address the root cause of the problem. One common cause of elbow pain is restricted (tight and shortened) forearm and triceps muscles.

These muscles can cause overstretching and straining on the elbow and triceps tendon, leading to pain and discomfort. Therefore, it is essential to release these muscles before attempting any exercise.

When performing tricep extension, it is generally better to use a resistance band instead of a barbell, dumbbell, cable machine, or smith machine, especially during muscle and injury rehabilitation. This is because a resistance band provides constant tension throughout the entire range of motion, which can help to activate the triceps muscle more effectively.

Additionally, the resistance band is less likely to cause injury, as it does not provide the same level of resistance as a heavy dumbbell or cable machine. It's also better to avoid overhead and lying extensions, and instead perform single-arm resistance band tricep extension.

Which tricep extension variation is better to avoid elbow pain?

All variations of tricep extension have the potential to trigger or aggravate elbow pain, but the standing or kneeling cable rope tricep extension is better for avoiding such pain. Here's why:

Firstly, performing tricep extension with the cable rope machine allows you to modify the position of your arm and the angle of your elbow to minimize contraction and extension of the triceps and forearm muscles, thereby reducing pressure on the elbow.

Secondly, the cable rope machine enables you to isolate each arm and use less weight on one arm if necessary to prevent elbow pain. Lastly, you can increase the weights (in smaller increments) and vary the speed of your reps to make the exercise more challenging or easier.

In contrast, the barbell/dumbbell overhead tricep extensions (whether standing, seated, lying, or with a smith machine) place the triceps in full extension, allowing for greater contraction and muscle growth, but this also increases the likelihood of overloading, straining, and inflaming the elbow and triceps tendon.

Therefore, if you experience elbow pain during tricep extension, the resistance band or cable rope machine is less likely to trigger or aggravate the pain. Alternatively, you can try other triceps exercises instead of tricep extension (see below).

What are alternative exercises to tricep extension when experiencing elbow pain?

Since tricep extensions, especially when performed with a barbell and overhead, can put excessive tension on the triceps and elbow tendons, there are alternative exercises that can minimize tension in these areas and alleviate elbow pain.

Here are seven alternatives to tricep extensions 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 reduce tension on the triceps and elbow tendon/joint.

  1. Resistance Band Back Fly
  2. Resistance Band Pull-Apart
  3. Resistance Band Kickback
  4. Single-Arm Resistance Band Tricep Extension
  5. Cable Kneeling Tricep Extension
  6. Machine-Assisted Dips
  7. Close Grip Dumbbell Press

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

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 pain caused by tricep extension within 7-10 days.

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

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.

However, 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 extension).

How do I perform tricep extension without elbow pain?

As mentioned earlier, tricep extension 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 extensions, consider the following tips:

  1. Stretch your forearm and triceps muscles before starting your workout.
  2. Use a resistance band or cable rope machine to perform extensions instead of the barbell, dumbbell, or Smith machine.
  3. If performing heavy extensions, perform two warm-up sets with lighter weights before increasing the weight.
  4. Use lifting straps to reduce forearm muscle tension from gripping the dumbbell/barbell.
  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 tricep extension?

    To stop elbow pain during tricep extension, you have two approaches: short-term 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 extension 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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