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

Written by: Nurudeen Tijani

The article below answers common questions about elbow pain during or after tricep pushdown. However, 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 pushdown | Nurudeen performing cable triceps pushdown at gym
YouTube video

Tricep Pushdown and Elbow Pain (FAQs)


1.  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 restricted triceps and forearm muscles, inadequate warm-up of the triceps and forearm muscles before exercising, excessive resistance (e.g., heavy tricep pushdowns), poor form or lifting technique during pushdowns, and a sudden increase in training volume (i.e., performing an excessive amount of pushdowns during a workout).

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

To 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.

If you want an easy-to-follow video guide to treat and prevent elbow issues, click the following link to access my TitaniumPhysique Program.

2.  Why does my elbow hurt after doing tricep pushdown?

"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 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 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

3.  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 (also 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 (also 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 (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 pushdowns is a sign of acute elbow pain.

Check out this video of Nurudeen performing tricep pushdown at the gym using a rope attachment and cable machine (2023). This exercise is highly effective at targeting the triceps muscles located at the back of the upper arm. With a variety of attachments available, such as the rope, straight bar, EZ curl bar, V-bar, or D-handle, the cable tricep pushdown is suitable for individuals of all fitness levels and goals. By strengthening and isolating the triceps muscles, this exercise can enhance upper body strength and power, especially in pushing and lifting movements. Additionally, it is an excellent way to create muscle definition in the lateral triceps muscle.

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Nurudeen Tijani, founder of TitaniumPhysique

4.  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 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 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.

5.  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 detailed article on the root causes of elbow pain, the types of elbow tendonitis, elbow bursitis, chronic vs. acute pain, and the fastest way to fix this condition, check out our helpful guide on elbow problems or this summarized article on how to treat weightlifting elbow injuries.

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 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

6.  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.

7.  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.

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8.  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.

9.  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.

    10.  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.

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    11.  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).

    12.  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

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

    It's possible to relieve elbow pain from tricep pushdown by releasing the forearm flexor muscles, forearm extensor muscles, and the 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 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.

    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).

    14.  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.

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      Nurudeen Tijani, founder of TitaniumPhysique

      15.  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 it from affecting your workouts, it's essential to address the root causes, which include chronic inflammation, magnesium deficiency, and muscle restriction. 

      My TitaniumPhysique Program can help you achieve this goal.

      16.  How can I avoid and prevent elbow pain during tricep pushdown?

      Firstly, it's important to note that part of avoiding chronic elbow pain is preventing acute elbow pain. If you begin to feel elbow pain during tricep pushdown, reduce the weights. If the pain persists, stop the exercise and train another body part that does not 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 the forearms and triceps before pushdowns (e.g., overhead triceps stretch).
      2. Start your workout by warming the elbow tendons (e.g., resistance band pull-apart).
      3. If performing heavy pushdowns, incrementally add weights to avoid sudden overload of the forearm muscles, triceps tendon, and elbow tendons.
      4. Learn and always use the proper tricep pushdown lifting technique. If you'd like to learn the correct technique, you can check out this video.
      5. Incrementally increase training volume (i.e. be mindful about doing an excessive amount of pushdown 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.

      If you want an easy-to-follow video guide to treat and prevent elbow issues, click the following link to access my TitaniumPhysique Program.

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      This program can help treat and fix:

      Elbow tendonitis
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      Golfer's elbow (inner pain)
      Tennis elbow (outer pain)
      Triceps tendonitis (back of elbow)
      Prevent elbow injuries

      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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