Why do I have pain in my elbow during tricep dips?

Written by: Nurudeen Tijani

The article below answers common questions about elbow pain during or after tricep dipsHowever, 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 tricep dips | Nurudeen performing tricep weighted bench dips at gym

Tricep Dips and Elbow Pain (FAQs)


1.  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 restricted triceps and forearm muscles, inadequate warm-up of the triceps and forearm muscles before exercising, using too much resistance (e.g., weighted tricep dips), poor form or technique during tricep dips, and a sudden increase in training volume (i.e., overtraining the triceps muscles). These factors, or a combination of them, can cause your elbow to hurt during tricep dips. However, the primary cause for most athletes 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 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 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 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

3.  Why am I experiencing pain on the 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 (also 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 (also known as tennis elbow). Finally, the triceps muscle can overstretch and inflame the triceps tendon at the back of the elbow, causing posterior elbow pain (also 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 dips is a sign of acute elbow pain.

Check out this 2016 video of Nurudeen performing weighted bench dips, a variation of tricep dips, at the gym. This exercise is highly effective at targeting the triceps muscles located at the back of the upper arm, helping to strengthen and tone them while building bigger arms. By adding weights to your dips, you can increase the resistance and make the exercise more challenging and effective. This exercise can also be modified to suit different fitness levels and goals, making it an excellent choice for anyone looking to improve their upper body strength and muscle definition.

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4.  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 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 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 (posterior elbow tendon).

For a detailed article on the root causes of elbow pain, including 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, read our helpful guide on elbow injuries.

Important: Apart from musculoskeletal injuries (muscle and tendon-related pain), other medical conditions can contribute to elbow pain during dips. 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 there are 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 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

6.  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.

7.  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.

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8.  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.

9.  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.

10.  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 physical training.

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11.  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).

12.  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

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

It's possible to relieve elbow pain from tricep dips, by releasing the forearm flexor muscles, forearm extensor muscles, and triceps muscle and tendon. This can be accomplished by using a myofascial release massage ball. Once the restricted muscles in the forearm and triceps are released, it can alleviate tension on the elbow tendons, allowing them to heal.

Using a combination of post-workout treatments such as RICE therapy (to relieve burning pain), magnesium supplementation (to reduce inflammation), and self-myofascial release (to relieve sharp, shooting, and dull pain), it's possible to treat and heal elbow pain from tricep dips in 7-10 days. This will require performing self-myofascial release (SMR) 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 dips).

14.  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.

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    15.  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 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 during tricep dips?

    Firstly, it's important to note that part of avoiding chronic elbow pain is preventing acute elbow pain. If you start to feel elbow pain during tricep dips, use less resistance (i.e., an assisted dip machine). If the pain persists, stop the exercise and train another body part that doesn't involve your arm and 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 your forearms and triceps before dips (e.g., overhead triceps stretch).
    2. Warm up your elbow tendons by doing resistance band pull-apart or other suitable exercises.
    3. If you're doing weighted dips, incrementally add weights to avoid sudden overload of the forearm muscles, triceps tendon, and elbow tendons.
    4. Learn and always use the proper tricep dip form/technique. Check out this video to learn the correct lifting technique.
    5. Incrementally increase your training volume (i.e., be mindful about doing an excessive amount of tricep dip sets).
    6. Supplement with magnesium to counteract inflammation and decalcify the elbow tendons and joints. 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.

    Important - keep in mind that restricted triceps and forearm muscles that cause elbow pain 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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