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

Written by: Nurudeen Tijani

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

Elbow pain during tricep kickback | Nurudeen performing dumbbell triceps kickback at gym

Tricep Kickback and Elbow Pain (FAQs)


1.  Why do I have pain in my elbow during tricep kickbacks and how do I fix it?

Elbow pain during tricep kickbacks can occur for several reasons, including restricted triceps and forearm muscles, inadequate warm-up of the triceps and forearm muscles before exercising, excessive resistance (e.g., heavy tricep kickbacks), poor form or lifting technique during kickbacks, and a sudden increase in training volume (i.e., overtraining the triceps muscles).

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

To cure or prevent this condition, prioritize proper form, gradually increase weights, 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 kickback?

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

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 kickbacks.
  • A sensation of heat, swelling, or redness around the elbow after kickbacks.
  • Sore elbows after a tricep kickback workout.
  • Elbow pain when bending and straightening the arm after kickbacks.
  • Sharp or severe elbow pain during or after kickbacks.
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 kickback. 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 inside, outside, or back of my elbow while doing tricep kickback?

Suppose you experience pain on the inside, outside, or back of your elbow while doing tricep kickback. In that case, the cause is usually a combination of the following factors: 1) restricted triceps and forearm muscles, and 2) an inflamed triceps and elbow tendon. During tricep kickback, the forearm flexors, forearm extensors, and triceps muscles extend and contract, which can pull and put tension on the inner and outer elbow and 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 joint, causing inner elbow pain (also known as golfer's elbow). The forearm extensor muscles can overstretch and strain the tendon on the outer part of the elbow, causing outer elbow pain (also known as tennis elbow). Finally, the triceps muscle can overstretch and irritate the tendon at the back of the elbow, causing posterior elbow pain (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 kickbacks is a sign of acute elbow pain.

Check out this 2023 video of Nurudeen performing dumbbell tricep kickbacks at the gym. This highly effective exercise targets the triceps muscles located at the back of the upper arm, helping to strengthen and tone them while building bigger arms. Dumbbell tricep kickbacks are a versatile exercise that can be modified to suit different fitness levels and goals. You can vary the weight of the dumbbells, the angle of your arm, and the speed of your reps to make the exercise more challenging or easier. Additionally, you can use a cable machine or a resistance band instead of dumbbells for added variety.

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4.  Why do I suddenly have (feel) elbow pain during tricep kickback 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 kickback 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.

5.  What causes pain in the elbow during tricep kickback?

When you perform an exercise involving the arm, such as tricep kickback, 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 kickbacks 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 kickbacks 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 comprehensive guide on elbow problems.

Important: Apart from musculoskeletal injuries (muscle and tendon-related pain), other medical conditions can contribute to elbow pain during kickbacks. 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 kickbacks. 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.  Is tricep kickback bad for the elbows?

When performed with good technique, tricep kickbacks (including cable machine kickback, dumbbell kickback, and resistance band kickback variations) is not bad for the elbows. However, performing the kickbacks 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 kickback cause elbow pain?

Tricep kickback 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 kickback engage the forearm muscles, triceps muscle, elbow tendons, and triceps tendon. During kickbacks, 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 kickback cause elbow damage?

Tricep kickback does not cause elbow damage when performed with proper technique. However, individuals who already have 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, which can cause a loss of strength in the tendon and may even lead to tendon tear or rupture. Therefore, performing tricep kickback 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 kickback?

Performing tricep kickback 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 kickbacks while experiencing ongoing elbow or triceps tendonitis can cause elbow pain and injury.

10.  Can I still do tricep kickback 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 temporary pain relief solutions during tricep kickback. However, if the pain is chronic, severe, or causes sharp pain during tricep kickback, it's best to treat the underlying cause before resuming physical training.

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11.  Can tricep kickback help with elbow pain?

Tricep kickback is an exercise that may help alleviate elbow pain. This claim is based on the fact that tricep kickback 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 kickback 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 kickback, it is generally better to use a resistance band instead of a dumbbell or cable 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.

12.  What are alternative exercises to tricep kickback when experiencing elbow pain?

Since tricep kickback 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 kickback 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. Resistance Band Back Fly
  2. Resistance Band Kickback
  3. Cable Kneeling Triceps Extension
  4. Machine Triceps Extension
  5. Machine Assisted Dips
  6. Cable High Pulley Triceps Extension
  7. Close Grip Dumbbell Press

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

It's possible to relieve elbow pain from tricep kickback 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 caused by tricep kickback 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.

However, 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 kickbacks).

14.  How do I perform tricep kickback without elbow pain?

As mentioned earlier, tricep kickback 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 kickbacks, consider the following tips:

  1. Stretch your forearm and triceps muscles before starting your workout.
  2. Use a resistance band to perform kickbacks instead of the cable machine or dumbbell.
  3. If performing heavy kickbacks, 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.
  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 tricep kickback?

    To stop elbow pain during kickbacks, 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 permanently cure elbow pain and prevent it from affecting your workout, 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 kickback?

    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 kickback, use less resistance (i.e., less weights). 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 doing kickbacks (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 heavy kickbacks, incrementally add weights to avoid sudden overload of the forearm muscles, triceps tendon, and elbow tendons.
    4. Learn and always use proper tricep kickback form/technique. Check out this video to learn the proper technique.
    5. Incrementally increase your training volume (i.e., be mindful about doing an excessive amount of tricep kickback 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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