Elbow Pain from Tricep Pushdown (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 injuries. The primary cause of elbow pain from tricep pushdown 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 pushdown while exercising
YouTube video

Understanding Elbow Pain from Tricep Pushdown


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

Elbow pain during tricep pushdown exercises 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, individually or in combination, can cause your elbow to hurt during tricep pushdowns. 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 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 pushdowns?

"Push-exercises" such as tricep pushdown can trigger or aggravate elbow pain because the exercise involves the triceps tendon and elbow tendons. The repetitive use of the elbow during pushdowns can strain and inflame the triceps tendon 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 pushdown.

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

  • Burning pain at the tip of the elbow and around the elbow joint after pushdowns
  • A sensation of heat, swelling, or redness around the elbow after pushdowns
  • Sore elbows after a tricep pushdown workout
  • Elbow pain when bending and straightening the arm after pushdowns
  • Sharp or severe elbow pain during or after pushdowns
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 muscles groups become shortened, they cause outer and posterior elbow pain during tricep pushdown.

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 pushdown?

Suppose you experience inner, outer, or posterior elbow pain during tricep pushdown. In that case, the cause is usually a combination of the following factors: 1) restricted triceps and forearm muscles, and 2) an inflamed triceps tendon and elbow tendon.

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

The forearm flexor muscles can overstretch and strain 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 outside part of the elbow, causing outer elbow pain (known as tennis elbow). Finally, the triceps muscle can overstretch and overload the triceps tendon at the back of the elbow, causing posterior elbow pain (known as triceps tendinitis).

Inner, outer, and posterior elbow pain 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 posterior elbow pain while doing pushdowns is a sign of acute elbow pain.

Check out this video of me performing tricep pushdown at the gym using a rope attachment and cable machine (2023).

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

The muscle conditions that lead to elbow pain are gradual and cumulative. Through repetitive use and over time, the forearm and triceps muscles 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 pushdown 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 pushdown?

When you perform an exercise involving the arm, such as tricep pushdown, 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, decreasing the tendons' elasticity. As a result, the tendons become overloaded and inflamed, causing elbow pain during pushdown and other triceps 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 pushdown include the medial elbow tendon (inner elbow tendon), extensor elbow tendon (outer elbow tendon), and triceps brachii tendon (posterior elbow tendon).

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 pushdowns.

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 Pushdowns on Elbows


Is tricep pushdown bad for the elbows?

When performed with good technique, tricep pushdown (including straight bar, rope, D-cable, and machine variations) is not bad for the elbows. However, performing tricep pushdown without proper warm-up, using excessive resistance, or suddenly increasing training volume can overload the elbow and triceps tendons, leading to elbow tendonitis and pain.

Can tricep pushdown cause elbow pain?

Tricep pushdown does 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 pushdown engage the forearm muscles, triceps muscle, elbow tendons, and triceps tendon. During pushdowns, 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 pushdown cause elbow damage?

Tricep pushdown does not cause elbow damage when performed with proper technique. However, for individuals with elbow tendonitis, performing pushdowns 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 pushdown 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 pushdown?

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

Managing and Preventing Elbow Pain


Can I still do tricep pushdown 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 remedies to alleviate pain during tricep pushdown. However, if the pain is chronic, severe, or causes sharp pain during tricep pushdown, it's best to treat the underlying cause before resuming training.

Which tricep pushdown variation is better to avoid elbow pain: cable rope or seated machine?

Both variations of pushdowns can trigger or aggravate elbow pain, but the cable machine is better for avoiding elbow pain. Here's why:

Performing tricep pushdown with the cable 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. The cable machine also allows you to modify the cable attachments.

You can use a straight bar, EZ curl bar, rope, V-bar, or D cable handle. The D-Cable handle enables you to isolate each arm and use less weight on one arm if necessary to prevent elbow pain.

In contrast, seated machine tricep pushdown is 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 pushdown, the cable pushdown is less likely to trigger or aggravate elbow pain. You can also try alternative triceps exercises instead of pushdowns (see below).

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

Unlike tricep pushdown, which can put excessive tension on the triceps and elbow tendons, the following exercises minimize tension on these areas and cause less pain in the elbow joint. Here are eight alternatives to tricep pushdown that you can try:

  1. Machine Triceps Extension
  2. Machine Assisted Dips
  3. Cable High Pulley Triceps Extension (perform partial reps, partial extension and contraction)
  4. Close Grip Dumbbell Press
  5. Band Back Fly
  6. Cable Kneeling Triceps Extension
  7. Triceps Overhead Stretch
  8. Triceps Side Stretch

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

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 pushdown 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.

Remember that simply resting the elbow (i.e., taking a break from physical activity) might temporarily provide relief. Still, 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 tricep pushdown).

How do I perform tricep pushdown without elbow pain?

As mentioned earlier, tricep pushdown 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 tricep pushdown, consider the following tips:

  1. Stretch your forearm and triceps muscles before starting your workout.
  2. Use the cable machine instead of the seated pushdown machine.
  3. Perform two warm-up sets with lighter weights before increasing the weight.
  4. Use lifting straps to reduce forearm muscle tension from gripping the weights.
  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 pushdown?

    To stop elbow pain during tricep pushdown, 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 pushdown 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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