Weightlifter's Elbow

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

Written by: Nurudeen Tijani

March 22, 2024

Physical activities such as weight training can cause elbow pain. The common types of elbow injuries are tennis elbow, golfer's elbow, and triceps tendonitis (also known as weightlifter's elbow). This article will focus on weightlifter's elbow.

Nurudeen Tijani performing inclined barbell bench press during a chest and back workout (2021)

Contents:  Causes   |   Symptoms   |   Treatment   |   Avoiding Injury

What is weightlifter's elbow?

Weightlifter's elbow, also known as triceps tendonitis, is an overuse injury causing pain at the elbow joint due to inflammation of the triceps tendon. It results from repetitive movements, leading to strain and discomfort. Overuse injuries can develop gradually over time (chronic) or occur suddenly (acute) from overloading the tendon.

For weightlifters, this condition worsens with exercises such as bench presses, push-ups, tricep dips or extensions, skull crushers, and overhead presses. Additional factors contributing to lifter's elbow include the following:

  1. Insufficient warm-up
  2. Inadequate stretching
  3. Poor weightlifting form
  4. Excessive resistance
  5. Muscle restriction
  6. Overtraining
  7. Inadequate recovery
  8. Lack of myofascial release
Weightlifter's elbow: an illustration shows the shoulder joint (scapula, clavicle, and humerus) along with the triceps brachii muscle/tendon. Irritation of the triceps tendon can lead to inflammation and pain at the back of the elbow.

An illustration shows the shoulder joint (scapula, clavicle, and humerus) along with the triceps muscles and tendon. Irritation of the triceps tendon, the fibrous connective tissue linking the triceps muscle to the elbow joint, can lead to inflammation and pain at the back of the elbow.

Symptoms

As a bodybuilder, I experienced triceps tendonitis for eight years. What does it feel like? Here are eight signs and symptoms of triceps tendonitis:

  • A burning sensation or pain at the back part of the elbow during or after exercising.
  • Tenderness, swelling, and soreness after working out.
  • Sharp, shooting, sudden, severe, or dull pain in the elbow joint.
  • Difficulty bending and straightening the arm due to tightness and stiffness in the elbow.
  • Weak grip strength when lifting dumbbells or barbells.
  • Discomfort when gripping objects, such as weights or exercise equipment.
  • Increased pain when applying pressure to the affected area.
  • Pain that worsens with repetitive movements.
Nurudeen Tijani performing skull crushers during a shoulder and arms workout (2021)

Nurudeen Tijani perform skull crushers during a shoulder and arms workout (2021)

Treatment

To fix and prevent elbow injuries, 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 address the root cause (restricted muscles) and minimize the risk of injury, overuse, and inflammation.

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

Here are nine additional forms of treatment to consider.

  1. Joint Supplements & Health Vitamins: Provide short-term relief and may prevent tendonitis but lack evidence for chronic pain.
  2. Painkillers (NSAIDs): Temporarily reduce inflammation and pain but only address symptoms and may cause long-term health issues.
  3. Joint Injection (Cortisone Shot): Offers temporary relief but may lead to long-term side effects and does not address the root cause.
  4. Topical Anti-Inflammatory Remedies: Effective for acute pain but not chronic conditions; provides little relief for long-term injuries.
  5. Strength Therapy & Physical Therapy: Important for tendinosis but may be ineffective without addressing underlying issues like inflammation and muscle restriction.
  6. Compression Sleeves, Straps, & Braces: Provide temporary relief but don't treat the root cause and can lead to prolonged symptoms.
  7. Sports & Kinesiology Tape Therapy: Temporarily relieves pain but can mask underlying issues, potentially prolonging tendonitis.
  8. Pain Relief Patches: Offer short-term relief but don't address root causes; may have long-term side effects.
  9. Stretching Therapy: Important for healing but may be ineffective without addressing underlying issues like inflammation and muscle restriction.

ImportantApart from musculoskeletal injuries (muscle and tendon-related pain), medical conditions like nerve entrapment and compression, bone fractures, and dislocations can contribute to elbow discomfort. As such, it is essential to consult a healthcare provider to ensure no structural issues with your elbow.

Nurudeen Tijani performing push-ups during a shoulder and arms workout (2021)

Nurudeen Tijani performs push-ups during a shoulder and arms workout (2021)

Avoiding Injury

Don't accept elbow pain as a standard part of your workouts. Here's how to avoid or prevent elbow injuries:

  1. Stretch Before Exercising: Stretch your forearms and triceps. Consider the overhead triceps stretch.
  2. Warm Up Properly: Warm up your elbow tendons with resistance band pull-apart or other suitable exercises.
  3. Gradually Increase Weight: If you plan on lifting heavier than usual (e.g., power training), gradually increase the weight to avoid sudden strain on the triceps tendon.
  4. Focus on Form and Technique: Use proper form and technique when lifting. Check out the Exercise Database & Library from the American Council on Exercise for guidance.
  5. Gradually Increase Training Volume: Be mindful of the number of sets you perform, and incrementally increase your training volume.
  6. Supplement with Magnesium: 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: Incorporate self-myofascial release 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.

Finally, remember that it is necessary to use the correct treatment to get lasting results. If you want an easy-to-follow video guide, click the link to access my 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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