Triceps Tendonitis

 Nurudeen Tijani (T.J.) Founder of TitaniumPhysique | Pain Relief Fitness Coach

Written by: Nurudeen Tijani

Updated: March 20, 2024

The primary cause for athletes and weightlifters who experience triceps tendonitis (triceps tendon pain) is restricted (shortened, tight, and tense) triceps muscle. To prevent this condition, maintain pliable triceps through self-myofascial release exercises. This article will answer common questions about triceps tendonitis and weight lifting.

3d illustration of the shoulder joint, scapula, arm bone, and triceps brachii muscle and tendon.
YouTube video

Triceps Tendonitis and Weight Lifting (FAQ)

1.  Why does the back part of my elbow hurt from weight lifting?

Triceps tendon pain from weight lifting can occur for several reasons:

  1. Restricted triceps muscles
  2. Inadequate stretching and warm-up of the triceps muscles and tendon before exercising
  3. Excessive resistance (e.g., heavy bench press)
  4. Poor lifting form or technique
  5. A sudden increase in training volume (e.g., performing an excessive number of bench press sets)

These factors, individually or in combination, can cause your triceps tendon and elbow to hurt. 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, allow adequate rest periods, and, most importantly, maintain pliable triceps and forearm muscles through self-myofascial release (SMR) exercises. These exercises can help relieve muscle restrictions 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.  What is triceps tendonitis, and what causes it?

Triceps tendonitis is a form of elbow tendonitis indicated by pain at the back of the elbow joint. It can develop gradually over time (chronic) or occur suddenly (acute) while lifting weights.

What causes it?

Short answer: The tendon at the back part of the elbow (triceps brachii tendon) becomes overstressed and inflamed. This inflammation causes pain (sharp or dull) at the back part of the elbow.

Long answer: The triceps muscle can become restricted when you lift weights over an extended period. This restriction occurs as the muscles shorten, tighten, and tense up due to muscular contraction, overuse, and a lack of myofascial release.

These tight muscles overstretch, strain, and inflame the triceps tendon and the surrounding tissues around the elbow. As a result, you may experience pain at the back part of the elbow during exercises such as bench presses, push-ups, overhead presses, tricep extensions, and skull crushers.

3d illustration of the shoulder joint, scapula, arm bone, and triceps brachii muscle and tendon.

A 3D illustration shows the shoulder joint (scapula, clavicle, and humerus) along with the triceps brachii muscles and tendon. Irritation of the triceps tendon due to weight training can lead to inflammation and pain at the back of the elbow.

3.  Can you get triceps tendonitis from weight training?

Yes, lifting can lead to the development of triceps tendonitis. However, it is essential to understand that weight training is not the root cause of this condition. Instead, lifting can trigger acute triceps tendon pain or worsen a chronic condition. The root causes of tricep tendonitis include chronic inflammation, magnesium deficiency, and muscle restriction.

For a comprehensive article on the root causes of elbow pain, the types of elbow tendonitis, elbow bursitis, chronic versus acute pain, and the fastest way to fix these conditions, check out our guides on elbow pain or elbow pain from weightlifting.

4.  Can the bench press cause triceps tendonitis?

The bench press does not cause triceps tendonitis when performed correctly. However, it can trigger or worsen the condition. "Push" exercises such as the bench press engage the triceps muscle, which can become tight and shortened over time, reducing flexibility.

This tightness and lack of elasticity can overload the muscles and place excessive tension on the triceps tendon during a bench press. When the triceps muscle is overloaded, it can stress and inflame the elbow/triceps tendons, leading to acute elbow pain (sharp, sudden, or shooting pain) or exacerbating chronic elbow pain (dull pain).

YouTube video

Nurudeen performs a barbell bench press during a chest workout at the gym (2021). Click to watch the video. The bench press is a highly effective exercise to build upper body strength, especially targeting the chest. It engages the pectoral, deltoid, and triceps muscles. "Push" movements, like the bench press, can trigger or worsen triceps tendonitis and tennis elbow.

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Nurudeen Tijani, founder of TitaniumPhysique

5.  Why do I suddenly feel pain in the back part of my elbow without apparent cause?

The muscle conditions that lead to posterior elbow pain develop gradually and cumulatively over time. The triceps muscle can become restricted through repetitive use, causing them to shorten and lose elasticity. This process of muscle restriction can take months or even years to develop.

When the triceps muscles have become restricted for months, gripping objects tightly, engaging in workouts, and weight lifting can suddenly trigger elbow pain without apparent cause. Unfortunately, most individuals are often unaware of the restricted state of their triceps muscles until they experience this sudden onset of elbow pain during these activities.

6.  What are the signs and symptoms of triceps tendonitis?

Here are nine signs and symptoms of triceps tendonitis:

  1. A burning sensation or pain at the back part of the elbow after lifting (e.g., overhead press, push-ups, bench press).
  2. Tenderness, swelling, and soreness in the elbow after lifting.
  3. Sharp, shooting, sudden, severe, or dull pain at the back part of the elbow while lifting.
  4. Pain and difficulty bending and straightening the arm after working out.
  5. Weak grip strength when lifting dumbbells or barbells.
  6. Pain or discomfort when gripping objects, such as weights or exercise equipment.
  7. Increased pain when applying pressure to the affected area.
  8. Stiffness and limited range of motion in the elbow joint.
  9. Pain that worsens with repetitive movements or gripping activities.
Illustration of a man applying ice gel pack on an injured elbow

Photo of a man applying an ice pack to the elbow. The RICE protocol (Rest, Ice, Compress, and Elevate) can help treat acute elbow tendonitis. Athletes with acute elbow tendonitis experience a burning pain sensation in the elbow after lifting. Applying ice (known as cold therapy) on the elbow after working out can reduce inflammation and help the inflamed tendon calm and heal. It's essential to understand that RICE treats tendonitis symptoms. It does not fix the root cause, so the pain often returns when fitness training resumes.

7.  Is triceps tendonitis typical among athletes involved in weight training?

Yes, triceps tendonitis is common among athletes who lift weights due to the repeated use of the triceps muscle and tendon during "push" exercises.

Various exercises commonly performed by weight-training athletes, including bench presses, shoulder presses, push-ups, clean and press, tricep pushdown, tricep dips, overhead tricep extensions, skull crushers, dumbbell kickbacks, and machine chest presses, can contribute to the development of triceps tendonitis.

In addition, lifting a weight that is too heavy, increasing training volume (e.g., performing excessively more sets during a workout), and using poor form during a triceps-involved exercise (e.g., bench press) can strain the triceps tendon, increasing the risk of this condition.

8.  Can I continue to lift with an injured triceps tendon?

It depends on the severity of the injury and pain. If the pain is mild, you can use short-term conventional solutions such as sports or kinesiology tape, elbow sleeves, braces, or straps to reduce discomfort during exercise. However, suppose the tricep injury is chronic, severe, or causes sharp or shooting sensations during physical activity. In that case, fix the underlying factors of the condition before resuming physical activity.

nurudeen performing seated shoulder press with barbell at gym 2019

Nurudeen performs seated barbell shoulder presses during a shoulder workout at the gym (2019). The seated shoulder press is a variation of the shoulder press exercise. It's known for its effectiveness in building upper body and shoulder strength. This exercise primarily targets the deltoids, upper pectoral, and triceps muscles. "Push" movements like the seated shoulder press can trigger or worsen triceps tendonitis and golfer's elbow.

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Nurudeen Tijani, founder of TitaniumPhysique

9.  Will triceps tendonitis go away by itself?

The acute symptoms of triceps tendonitis can go away unaided with rest. However, the underlying factors contributing to this condition, such as restricted and tense triceps muscle, do not resolve unassisted. In fact, for many athletes, it often worsens over time.

Here's why: the root causes of triceps tendon pain include chronic inflammation, magnesium deficiency, and muscle restriction.

Firstly, once a muscle becomes restricted and dysfunctional, it tends to remain in that state or worsen unless specifically addressed.

Secondly, muscle dysfunction is often associated with magnesium deficiency. "The Magnesium Miracle," a scientific reference on the health effects of magnesium, highlights that around 40% of magnesium in the body is in the muscles. A significant portion of the population is magnesium deficient.

Heavy exercise, physical activity, and various factors like caffeine, stimulants, diuretics, stress, and dehydration can deplete magnesium levels in athletes. These factors are one reason why restricted muscles persist and worsen.

Thirdly, chronically restricted muscles eventually become dysfunctional and stop working correctly. This condition leads to repeated injury and stress on the triceps tendon, resulting in chronic tendonitis. The tendon experiences micro-tear damage (tendonitis) when the injury occurs.

As training continues, the tendon condition deteriorates and degenerates, known as tendinosis. Ultimately, this progression can lead to the rupture of the tendon.

Therefore, it is crucial for athletes recovering from tendonitis to replenish magnesium actively and maintain pliable triceps muscles through self-myofascial release (SMR) exercises. While resting the elbow (taking a break from training) may temporarily relieve symptoms, it will not address the underlying cause of the pain.

YouTube video

Nurudeen performs tricep pulldowns with a cable machine during a workout session at the gym (2023). Click to watch the video. A Tricep Pulldown is a common exercise that targets the triceps muscle, effectively strengthening and toning the back of the arms. While it benefits triceps development, it's important to note that the tricep pulldown or pushdown can trigger or worsen tricep tendonitis.

10.  How long does it take to heal a triceps tendon injury?

By combining post-workout treatments such as RICE therapy (to relieve burning pain), magnesium supplementation (to reduce inflammation), and self-myofascial release (to alleviate sharp, shooting, and dull aches), it is possible to treat and heal triceps tendon pain within 7-10 days. It will involve performing self-myofascial release (SMR) on the triceps and forearm muscles at least 2-3 times daily.

While resting the elbow (taking a break from training) may provide temporary relief, it will not address the underlying cause of the pain - restricted triceps and forearm muscles that place excessive strain on the elbow tendons.

11.  Which exercises should I avoid if I have a triceps tendon injury?

Avoid "pressing" or "push" exercises that strain the triceps tendon. Here's a list of 12 exercises to avoid and alternative exercises you can perform (see Question #12 below).

12 Exercises to Avoid:

  1. Bench Press
  2. Close-Grip Bench Press
  3. Shoulder and Overhead Press
  4. Clean and Press
  5. Push Press
  6. Military Press
  7. Push-Ups
  8. Tricep Kickback
  9. Tricep Dips
  10. Tricep Pressdown/Pulldown
  11. Overhead Tricep Extensions
  12. Skull Crushers
YouTube video

Nurudeen performs skull crushers during a shoulder and arms workout at the gym (2021). Click to watch the video. Skull crushers are a variation of the Overhead Triceps Extension and an effective exercise to build arm strength, primarily targeting the triceps muscle. However, "pull" exercises like skull crushers can trigger or worsen triceps tendon injury or golfer's elbow.

12.  What upper body exercises can I perform with triceps tendonitis?

If you're training while recovering from a triceps tendon injury, there are a few vital things to remember.

  1. Replace "push" and "press" workouts with "pull" and "fly" exercises.
  2. Opt for resistance band or cable machine variations of exercises instead of using barbells, dumbbells, and stationary machines.
  3. Consider performing partial reps, where you don't fully contract or extend the arm during the exercise. This modification can help reduce tension in the triceps and alleviate posterior elbow pain.
  4. Use less resistance and focus on performing more repetitions.

Here's a list of 20+ upper body exercises you can try if you have posterior elbow pain. These exercises put less strain on the posterior elbow tendon while effectively engaging the upper body muscles.

Back Exercises:

  • Lat Pulldown (using Resistance Band)
  • Wide-Grip Lat Pulldown (use Double Handle Bar with Palms Facing In)
  • Rows (using Resistance Band)
  • Machine Assisted Pull-Up (using Hammer Grip)
  • Full Cobra (Supermans)
  • Back Hyperextensions
  • Back Fly (using Resistance Band)
  • Dumbbell Reverse Fly

Shoulder and Arm Exercises:

  • Machine Deltoid Raise
  • Cable Upright Row
  • Dumbbell Shrugs (lower weight, higher reps)
  • Lateral Raises (with a Resistance Band)
  • Front Raises (with a Resistance Band)
  • Machine Tricep Extension
  • Bicep Curl

Chest Exercises:

  • Cable Chest Fly
  • Cable Chest Crossover
  • Chest Fly (using Resistance Band)
  • Wall Push-Up or Kneeling Push-Ups (with Wide-Arm)
  • Dumbbell Pullover (with Straight Arm)
  • Machine Inner Chest Press (grip the bar so your palms face in)
  • Machine Fly (using Pec Deck Machine)
YouTube video

Watch a 2023 video of Nurudeen performing an incline dumbbell fly during a chest and back workout at the gym. The dumbbell fly is a variation of the chest fly exercise. It is highly effective at building muscle mass and chest strength. The dumbbell fly is a "pull exercise," putting little to no strain on the triceps tendon. It is an excellent alternative exercise for those recovering from a triceps tendon injury.

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Nurudeen Tijani, founder of TitaniumPhysique

13.  What happens if triceps tendonitis is left untreated?

If left untreated, triceps tendonitis can progress and lead to tendon degeneration. The tendon can deteriorate and weaken over time, increasing the risk of tendon tears or ruptures, known as elbow tendinosis. Also, untreated elbow injuries can contribute to developing autoimmune conditions such as elbow arthritis.

Moreover, when restricted muscles in the triceps are left untreated, they become dysfunctional and can cause pain in the shoulder. Therefore, seeking appropriate treatment or incorporating regular self-myofascial release (SMR) exercises is vital to prevent further complications and maintain optimal elbow and shoulder function.

14.  Can triceps tendonitis cause permanent damage to the elbow?

Yes, triceps tendonitis can cause permanent damage to the elbow. This condition is known as elbow tendinosis. The degeneration of tendon collagen indicates tendinosis. Over time, tendinosis can lead to a loss of strength in the tendon and may result in tendon tears or ruptures. Therefore, addressing the condition's root cause is crucial to prevent the risk of permanent elbow issues.

YouTube video

Nurudeen performs tricep dips during a workout session at the gym (2017). Click to watch the video. Triceps dip is a common exercise that targets the triceps muscles, providing an effective way to strengthen and tone the back of the arms. While dips benefit triceps development, the exercise can overload the triceps muscle and tendon. Like other "push" exercises, tricep dips can trigger or worsen posterior elbow pain.

15.  Can elbow compression sleeves alleviate triceps tendon pain?

Yes, elbow compression sleeves, such as elbow wraps, straps, and support braces, can alleviate tricep tendon pain felt during exercise.

However, it's essential to consider the pros and cons of using elbow sleeves to manage tricep tendonitis.

Pros: Elbow compression sleeves provide compression, which improves blood flow, enhances joint position awareness (proprioception), and offers support to the muscles and tendons surrounding the elbow joint. The compression promotes better circulation, stabilizes the joint, reduces swelling, alleviates pain, and can help prevent further damage during intense workouts.

Cons: There are drawbacks to relying solely on elbow compression sleeves, especially for individuals with concurrent chronic elbow injuries such as tennis elbow, golfer's elbow, triceps tendonitis, or elbow bursitis. Relying only on sleeves for pain relief can mask the underlying problem, allowing athletes to continue lifting without addressing the root cause of their pain.

This masking will further perpetuate the injury and potentially lead to long-term degenerative conditions in the elbow.

16.  What options do I have to stop my triceps tendon from hurting?

To stop your elbow and tricep tendon from hurting, you have two options: utilizing short-term pain relief methods for temporary relief or addressing the underlying cause of the pain to avoid its recurrence.

Option #1: Short-term relief remedies. These include:

  1. Using joint supplements and vitamins
  2. Taking anti-inflammatory painkillers (NSAIDs)
  3. Undergoing physical therapy
  4. Incorporating stretching exercises
  5. Applying ice and resting the affected area
  6. Wearing elbow braces or straps
  7. Using kinesiology tape
  8. Applying topical anti-inflammatory solutions such as oils and creams

Option #2: Fix the root cause. To prevent triceps tendonitis from interfering with your workouts, fix the root causes. These include chronic inflammation, magnesium deficiency, and muscle restriction.

My TitaniumPhysique Program can help you accomplish this.

YouTube video

Nurudeen performs push-ups during a chest workout at the gym (2021). Click to watch the video. Push-ups are a highly effective bodyweight exercise that targets several muscle groups, including the chest (pectoral muscles), shoulders (deltoids), and triceps. They are beneficial for building upper body strength and improving overall muscular endurance. However, "push" exercises, such as push-ups, can aggravate tennis elbow and triceps tendonitis.

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Nurudeen Tijani, founder of TitaniumPhysique

17.  How can I avoid or prevent triceps tendonitis?

Firstly, it's important to note that part of avoiding chronic elbow pain is preventing acute pain. Reduce the resistance if you experience pain in the back part of your elbow while lifting.

If the pain persists, discontinue the exercise and focus on training another body part that doesn't involve your arm and elbow. Pushing through the pain will only exacerbate acute inflammation after your workout, worsen the pain symptoms, and prolong elbow recovery.

To avoid or prevent triceps tendonitis, follow these steps:

  1. Before exercising, stretch your forearms and triceps. Consider these stretches by RedBoxFitness or the overhead triceps stretch.
  2. Warm up your elbow tendons with resistance band pull-apart or other suitable exercises.
  3. If you plan on lifting heavier than usual (e.g., power training), gradually increase the weight to avoid sudden strain on the forearm extensors and triceps muscle/tendon.
  4. Learn and consistently utilize proper form and technique when lifting. Check out the Exercise Database & Library from the American Council on Exercise for guidance.
  5. Be mindful of the number of sets you perform and gradually increase your training volume.
  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 and healthy.

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

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This program can help treat and fix:

Elbow tendonitis
Elbow pain and injuries
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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