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

Written by: Nurudeen Tijani

The article below answers common questions about elbow pain during or after push-upsHowever, 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 push-ups | Nurudeen from TitaniumPhysique performing standard push-ups at gym
Nurudeen from TitaniumPhysique performing standard push-ups at gym

Push-Ups and Elbow Pain (FAQ)


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

Elbow pain during push-ups can occur for several reasons, including restricted triceps or forearm muscles, inadequate warm-up of the triceps and forearms before exercising, excessive resistance (i.e., weighted or resistance band push-ups), poor push-up form or technique, and a sudden increase in training volume (i.e., performing an excessive number of push-up sets).

These factors, individually or in combination, can cause your elbow to hurt during push-ups. However, the primary cause for most people is restricted (shortened, tight, and tense) triceps and forearm muscles.

To cure or prevent this condition, 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 doing push-ups?

"Push" exercises such as push-ups can trigger or aggravates elbow pain because the exercise involve the triceps and elbow tendons. The repetitive movement during push-ups can strain and inflame the elbow tendons and elbow joint. When the elbow tendons become inflamed, it causes acute elbow pain after the workout - this is what causes your elbow to hurt after doing pushups.

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

  • Burning pain in the elbow joint after push-ups
  • A sensation of heat, swelling or redness around elbow joint after push-ups
  • Sore elbow after push-ups
  • Elbow pain when bending and straightening arm after push-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 push-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 outer elbow pain while doing push-ups?

If you experience outer elbow pain while doing pushups, the cause is usually a combination of restricted (tight and shortened) triceps, forearm muscles, and inflamed elbow tendons. The forearm and triceps muscles contract when you do exercises involving your arms, such as push-ups. When the forearm and triceps muscles contract during exercise, they pull and exert tension on the elbow tendons.

During push-ups, the forearm extensor muscles can overstretch and strain the tendon on the outer part of the elbow joint. Outer elbow pain (also known as tennis elbow) can be chronic (develops over time) or acute (occurs suddenly from overloading the elbow).

Acute pain is an inflammatory pain experienced during or immediately after an exercise. In this case, experiencing outer elbow pain while doing pushups is a sign of acute elbow pain.

A video of Nurudeen performing variations of push-ups and post-workout stretches (2020): standard push-ups, diamond push-ups, and wide-arm push-ups. "Push" exercises such as push-ups can aggravate tennis elbow (pain on outside part of elbow) and triceps tendonitis (pain at the back of elbow).

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

When the forearm muscles and triceps 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. routine push-ups workout) can suddenly trigger elbow painUnfortunately, most people do not realize their forearm or triceps are restricted until a routine activity unexpectedly triggers elbow pain.

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

The forearm and triceps muscles contract when you do exercises involving your arms (such as push-ups). Over time, as you exercise, the forearm muscles (Extensor Carpi and Radialis Brevis "ECRB") become tighter and shorter. Shortened forearm muscles 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, strained, and inflamed, causing elbow pain during pushups.

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 elbow tendons that cause elbow pain during push-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 helpful resource on elbow pain.

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

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

7.  Can push-ups cause elbow pain?

When performed properly with good technique, push-ups does not cause elbow pain. However, push-ups can trigger or aggravate elbow tendonitis and elbow pain. "Push" exercises such as push-ups involve the forearm muscles, triceps muscle, elbow tendons, and elbow joint. During pushups, the forearm muscles can get overloaded. When the forearm muscles become overloaded, it can overstretch and inflame the elbow tendons and cause acute elbow pain (sharp pain) or aggravates chronic elbow pain (dull pain).

Nurudeen from TitaniumPhysique performing diamond push ups at gym

Nurudeen performing diamond push-ups during triceps workout at gym (2020). Diamond push-ups is a variation of the standard push-ups exercise. Diamond push-ups effectively target the triceps and pectoral muscles. Diamond push-ups can aggravate golfer's elbow (pain on inside part of elbow) and triceps tendonitis (pain at the back of elbow).

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8.  Can push-ups damage elbows?

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

9.  Can you hurt your elbow doing push-ups?

When performed with good technique, push-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 push-ups:

  • Inadequate warm-up of the elbow tendons and triceps tendon before push-ups
  • Inadequate stretching of the triceps muscle and forearm muscle before pushups
  • Using excessive resistance (e.g., weighted or resistance band push-ups)
  • Bad pushups form or technique. To learn how to perform push-ups properly, check out this guide by the American Council on Exercise.
  • Sudden increase in training volume (i.e., performing an excessive amount of push-up sets)
  • Doing push-ups while experiencing ongoing mild-to-severe elbow tendonitis

10.  Can I still do push-ups with elbow pain?

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

Nurudeen performing push-ups during a vinyasa yoga sequence

Nurudeen performing push-ups during sun salutation A vinyasa yoga (2019). Sun salutation A is a sequence of yoga movements including chaturanga, upward dog, and downward dog. This sequence of movements puts pressure on the elbow tendons and causes elbow pain. Most people experience triceps tendonitis (posterior elbow pain) during this sequence of sun salutation A.

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Man performing push-ups with a resistance band

A man performing push-ups with resistance band. Resistance band push-ups is a modification of the standard push-ups exercise. Resistance band push-ups can strengthen and build the pectoral muscles. Additionally, it's an effective exercise to rehab and strengthen the elbow joint and shoulder. The resistance band modification increase the difficulty of the push-ups exercise, which can be useful during elbow pain treatment therapy.

11.  Are push-ups good for tennis elbow?

Pushups can be a good exercise to rehab tennis elbow. Push-ups help strengthen the elbow tendons, triceps tendon, forearm muscles, triceps muscle, and elbow joint. The push-ups exercise can be modified to accommodate an individual's ability. Here are five push-ups variation to rehab tennis elbow:

  • Wall Push-ups
  • Kneeling Push-ups
  • Resistance Band push-ups
  • Incline Push-ups
  • Stability Ball Push-ups

12.  Are diamond push-ups bad for elbows?

When performed properly with good technique, diamond push-ups is not bad for the elbow and does not cause elbow problems. However, diamond push-ups can trigger or aggravate elbow tendonitis and elbow pain. The diamond push-ups primarily targets the pectorals (chest) and triceps. The exercise involve the forearm muscles, triceps muscle, triceps tendon, elbow tendons, and elbow joint.

During diamond push-ups, the triceps muscles can get overloaded. When the triceps muscles become overloaded, it irritates and inflames the triceps tendon and causes acute elbow pain or aggravates chronic elbow painDiamond push-ups can aggravate golfer's elbow (pain on inside part of elbow) and triceps tendonitis (pain at the back of elbow).

13.  Do elbow sleeves help with elbow pain during push-ups?

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

Nurudeen from TitaniumPhysique performing wide-arm push ups at gym

Nurudeen performing wide-arm push-ups during a chest workout at the gym (2020). Wide-arm push-up is a variation of the standard push-up exercise. Wide-arm push-ups isolate the triceps muscle while targeting the pectoral muscle. As a result, it's an effective exercise to strengthen the pectorals and build a bigger chest. Wide-arm push-ups can aggravate golfer's elbow, tennis elbow, and triceps tendonitis, and cause push-up elbow pain.

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

It's possible to relieve elbow pain from push-ups, by releasing the forearm flexor muscles, forearm extensor muscles, and 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 elbow pain (dull, sharp, severe) 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 elbow pain during push-ups).

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

    To stop elbow pain during push-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 pain and prevent it 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.

    16.  How can I avoid and prevent elbow pain from push-ups?

    Important: part of avoiding chronic elbow pain is preventing acute elbow pain. If you begin to feel elbow pain during push-ups, modify the exercise. For example, try kneeling push-ups or wall push-ups, and narrow or widen your arm position; if performing resistance band or weighted push-ups, reduce the resistance.

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

    1. Stretch the triceps and forearm muscles before doing push-ups. Try the overhead triceps stretch and forearm stretches by RedBox Fitness).
    2. Start your push-ups workout by warming the elbow joint and triceps tendon (e.g., wall push-ups).
    3. If performing weighted push-ups, incrementally add resistance to avoid sudden overload of the triceps tendon and elbow tendons.
    4. Learn and always good push-up technique. This is especially important if performing a new or advanced push-up variation (e.g., archer push-ups, pike push-ups, dive bomber push-ups). To learn proper technique, check out this guide.
    5. Incrementally increase training volume (i.e., be mindful about doing excessive push-up sets or performing push-ups with other elbow-intensive exercises).
    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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