Why do I have pain in my elbow during pull-ups?

Written by: Nurudeen Tijani

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

Elbow pain during pull-ups | Nurudeen performing pull-ups and chin-ups at gym
nurudeen performing pull-ups and chin-ups at gym

Pull-Ups and Elbow Pain (FAQs)


1.  Why do I have pain in my elbow during pull-ups and how do I fix it?

Elbow pain during pull-ups can occur for several reasons, including restricted triceps or forearm muscles, inadequate warm-up of the triceps and forearms before exercising, excessive resistance (e.g., weighted pull-ups), poor pull-up form or technique, and a sudden increase in training volume (i.e., performing an excessive number of pull-up sets). These factors, individually or in combination, can cause your elbow to hurt during pull-ups or chin-ups. However, the primary cause for most people is restricted (shortened, tight, and tense) triceps and forearm muscles.

To cure or prevent elbow pain, 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 pull-up or chin-up?

"Pull" exercises such as pull-ups or chin-ups can trigger or aggravate elbow pain because the exercise involves the triceps and elbow tendons. The repetitive movement during pull-ups and chin-ups can strain and inflame the elbow tendons and joints. When the elbow tendons become inflamed, it causes acute pain after the workout - this is what causes your elbow to hurt after doing a pull-up or chin-up.

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

  • Burning pain in the elbow joint after pull-ups or chin-ups
  • A sensation of heat, swelling, or redness around the elbow joint after pull-ups
  • Sore elbow after pull-ups 
  • Elbow discomfort when bending and straightening arm after pull-ups or chin-ups
A side-by-side comparison photo of forearm extensors and triceps muscle. Illustration of the shoulder joint, scapula, arm bone, and triceps brachii muscle and tendon. Illustration of the forearm extensor muscle group and 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 pull-ups. 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

3.  Why am I experiencing inner elbow pain while doing pull-ups?

If you experience discomfort inside the elbow during pull-ups, the cause is usually a combination of restricted triceps, forearm muscles (tight and shortened), and inflamed elbow tendons.

The forearm and triceps muscles contract when you do exercises involving your arms, such as pull-ups. When the forearm and triceps muscles tighten during exercise, they pull and exert tension on the elbow tendons. During pull-ups, the forearm flexor muscles can overload and strain the tendon on the inside part of the elbow. Inner elbow pain (also known as golfer's elbow) can be chronic (develops over time) or acute (occurs suddenly from overloading the elbow).

Since acute pain is an inflammatory pain experienced during or immediately after an exercise, experiencing inner elbow pain while doing pull-ups is a sign of acute pain.

4.  Why do I suddenly have (feel) elbow pain during pull-ups 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 (shortened, inelastic). This process of muscle restriction can take months or years to develop.

When the triceps muscles become chronically restricted, a routine activity at home or work (carrying a bag of groceries, holding or gripping something tightly) or at the gym (e.g., a typical pull-up workout) can suddenly trigger elbow pain. Unfortunately, most people do not realize their forearm or triceps are restricted until an everyday activity unexpectedly triggers an elbow injury.

A video of Nurudeen performing variations of pull-ups and chin-ups at the gym (2021): wide-grip rear pull-ups, wide-grip pull-ups, and close-grip chin-ups. "Pull" exercises such as pull-ups and chin-ups can aggravate golfer's elbow and tennis elbow (pain and tenderness on the outer part of the elbow).

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5.  What causes pain in the elbow during pull-ups?

The forearm and triceps muscles contract when you do exercises involving your arms (such as pull-ups). Over time as you exercise, the forearm extensor and flexor muscles, and triceps muscle become tighter and shorter. Shortened forearm 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 discomfort during pull-ups.

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 tendons that cause pain in the elbow during pull-ups 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, the types of elbow tendonitis (tennis elbow, golfer's elbow, triceps tendonitis), elbow bursitis, chronic vs. acute elbow pain, and the fastest way to cure these conditions, check out our comprehensive elbow injuries.

Important: Apart from musculoskeletal injuries (muscle and tendon-related pain), other medical conditions can contribute to elbow pain during pull-ups. 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 pull-up and chin-ups. 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.  Are pull-ups bad for elbows?

Pull-ups are not bad for the elbows when performed with good technique. However, performing pull-ups without first warming up the triceps and forearm muscles, using excessive resistance (e.g., weighted pull-ups), or a sudden increase in training volume (i.e., performing an excessive amount of pull-up sets) can overload the elbow tendons and triceps tendon, and cause elbow tendonitis and elbow pain.

7.  Is close-grip chin-ups bad for elbows?

When performed properly with good technique, close grip chin-ups are not bad for the elbow and do not cause elbow problems. However, close-grip chin-ups can trigger or aggravate elbow tendonitis and pain. The close-grip chin-ups primarily target the latissimus dorsi (lats), shoulder, and arm. The exercise involves the forearm and triceps muscle, triceps tendon, and elbow tendons.

During close-grip chin-ups, the forearm muscles can get overloaded. When the forearm muscles become overloaded, it can overstretch and inflame the elbow and triceps tendons and cause acute pain or aggravate chronic pain. Close-grip chin-ups can aggravate golfer's elbow and triceps tendonitis.

Nurudeen performing wide grip pull-ups in gym (2022)

Nurudeen performing wide-grip pull-ups during back workout at gym (2022). Wide-grip pull-ups is a variation of the pull-ups exercise. Wide-grip pull-ups primarily target the upper lats muscle and secondarily the deltoids, biceps and triceps. Wide grip pull-ups can aggravate tennis elbow (pain on the outside part of the elbow) and triceps tendonitis (pain at the back of elbow).

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8.  Can pull-ups cause elbow pain?

When performed properly with good technique, pull-ups do not cause elbow pain. However, pull-ups can trigger or aggravate elbow tendonitis. "Pull" exercises such as pull-ups involve the forearm and triceps muscles, elbow tendons, and elbow joint. During pull-ups, the forearm muscles can get overloaded. When these muscles become overloaded, they overstretch and inflame the elbow tendons and cause acute pain (sharp pain) or aggravate chronic pain (dull pain).

9.  Can pull-ups damage elbows?

When performed properly with good technique, pull-ups do not damage elbows. However, for a person experiencing elbow tendonitis, pull-ups can trigger acute elbow discomfort or aggravate chronic 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 pull-ups with elbow tendonitis (i.e., inflammatory pain) can lead to elbow tendinosis (i.e., degeneration of elbow tendon) and damage the elbows.

10.  Can you hurt your elbow doing pull-ups?

When performed properly with good technique, pull-ups are 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 pull-ups:

  • Inadequate warm-up of the elbow tendons and triceps tendon before pull-ups
  • Inadequate stretching of the triceps muscle and forearm muscle before pullups
  • Using excessive resistance e.g. weighted pull-ups)
  • Bad pull-up form or technique. To learn proper pull-up techniques, check out this guide by the American Council on Exercise.
  • Sudden increase in training volume (i.e. performing an excessive amount of pull-up sets)
  • Doing pull-ups while experiencing ongoing mild-to-severe elbow tendonitis
Nurudeen performing close grip chin-ups in gym (2022)

Nurudeen performing close-grip chin-ups during back workout at gym (2022). The close-grip chinup is a variation of the chin-up exercise. Close-grip chinup primarily target the lower lats muscle and secondarily the deltoids and triceps. Close-grip chins can aggravate golfer's elbow (pain on inside part of elbow) and triceps tendonitis (pain at the back of elbow).

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11.  Can I still do pull-ups with elbow pain?

It depends on the severity of the pain. If the elbow tendonitis causes "low to mild" pain, most people can use elbow sleeves, elbow wraps, elbow straps, or other short-term conventional treatments to reduce pain during pull-ups. If the elbow tendonitis is chronic and severe or causes sharp pain in the elbow during pull-ups, it's best to treat the root cause of the pain before resuming exercise.

12.  Do elbow sleeves help with elbow pain during pull-ups?

Elbow sleeves (including elbow straps, elbow braces, and elbow wraps) are a popular option to manage elbow injuries during exercise. Elbow sleeves compress the elbow tendon and elbow joint. As a result, it temporarily reduces elbow discomfort when exercising, for example, during pull-ups or chin-ups. Unfortunately, elbow sleeves do not cure the underlying factors of the injury. Left untreated, elbow tendonitis pain can lead to elbow tendinosis and cause irreversible elbow tendon degeneration.

13.  How long does it take to heal elbow pain caused by pull-ups? (sharp, severe, burning, or dull pain)

It's possible to relieve elbow pain by releasing the forearm flexor and extensor muscles, and the triceps muscle and tendon. 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, which allows the tendons 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 elbow discomfort within 7-10 days. To accomplish this, it will require performing self-myofascial release on the triceps and forearm muscles, at least 2-3 times a day.

Keep in mind that simply resting the elbow (i.e. taking a break from physical training), 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 pain during pull-ups).

Nurudeen performing v-bar pull-ups in gym (2022)

Nurudeen performing V-bar pull-ups during back workout at gym (2022). The V-bar pull-up is a variation of the pull-up exercise. V-bar pull-ups primarily target the lower lats muscle and secondarily the deltoids and biceps. V-bar pull-ups can aggravate golfer's elbow (pain on the inside part of the elbow) and tennis elbow (pain on the outside part of the elbow).

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A athletic man doing weighted pull-ups in the gym

A man doing wide-grip weighted pull-ups at the gym. The weighted pull-up is a variation of the pull-up exercise. Wide-grip weighted pull-ups primarily target the latissimus dorsi (upper lats muscle) and secondarily the deltoids and triceps. Due to the added resistance during weighted pull-ups, it can aggravate golfer's elbow, tennis elbow, and triceps tendonitis.

14.  What options do I have to stop my elbows from hurting during pull-ups?

To stop elbow pain during pull-ups, 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 permanently cure elbow issues and prevent them 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 from pull-ups?

Important: part of avoiding chronic elbow problems is preventing acute elbow pain. If you begin to feel pain in the elbow during pull-ups, modify the exercise. For example, try assisted pull-ups, narrow or widen your grip; if performing weighted pull-ups, reduce the weights.

If the pain persists, stop the exercise and train another body part that does not involve your elbow. Pushing through a workout while experiencing elbow discomfort 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 problems, follow these steps:

  1. Stretch the forearm muscles (click here for examples) before doing pull-ups.
  2. Start your pull-up workout by warming the elbow tendons (e.g., resistance band pull-apart).
  3. If performing weighted pull-ups, incrementally add weights to avoid sudden overload of the triceps tendon and elbow tendons.
  4. Learn and always good pull-up exercise technique. To learn more, check out the Exercise Database & Library (by the American Council on Exercise).
  5. Incrementally increase training volume (i.e., be mindful about doing excessive pull-up 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 discomfort 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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