Why do I have pain in my elbow during yoga?

Written by: Nurudeen Tijani

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

nurudeen performing reverse warrior (Viparita Virabhadrasana) during yoga in studio

Yoga and Elbow Pain (FAQs)


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

Elbow pain during yoga can occur for several reasons, including restricted triceps and forearm muscles, an inadequate warm-up of these muscle groups before attempting complex yoga poses, and poor form or technique during asanas (yoga poses and postures).

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

To cure or prevent this condition, prioritize warm-up, proper form, good technique, and, most importantly, maintain pliable triceps and forearm muscles through self-myofascial release (SMR) exercises. These exercises can help relieve the restrictions in the muscles and minimize the risk of injury, overuse, and inflammation.

2.  Why does my elbow hurt after doing yoga?

Poses such as chaturanga or "push-movements" involved in Ashtanga yoga sun salutation A, which include plank pose, chaturanga, upward-facing dog, and downward-facing dog, can trigger or worsen elbow pain because they engage the triceps and elbow tendons. Prolonged contraction and tension of the triceps tendon and repetitive use of the elbow during these poses can strain and inflame the triceps and elbow tendons, resulting in acute pain after yoga. This situation is what causes your elbow to hurt after practicing yoga.

Acute elbow pain is an inflammatory pain experienced during or immediately after a workout. In this case, symptoms of acute elbow pain include:

  • Burning pain around the tip and joint of the elbow after yoga.
  • After yoga, the elbow area feels heat, swelling, or redness.

  • Soreness in the elbow after yoga.
  • Elbow pain when bending and straightening the arm after doing yoga.
  • Sharp or severe elbow pain during or after yoga.
nurudeen practicing Chaturanga Dandasana (Four-Limbed Staff Pose)

Nurudeen is practicing Chaturanga Dandasana during vinyasa yoga (2019). Chaturanga Dandasana, or Four-Limbed Staff Pose, is a foundational yoga pose commonly practiced in vinyasa flow sequences. It involves a plank-like position with the body parallel to the ground, supported only by the hands and toes. In Chaturanga Dandasana, the elbows are bent at a 90-degree angle and hugged close to the sides of the body, engaging the core and arm muscles. This pose strengthens the arms, shoulders, and core while improving stability and control. Chaturanga is a transition pose in Sun Salutations and other yoga sequences.

3.  Why am I experiencing pain inside, outside, or back of my elbow during yoga?

Suppose you experience pain inside, outside, or back of your elbow while doing yoga. In that case, the cause is usually a combination of the following factors:

  1. Restricted triceps and forearm muscles
  2. Inflammation of the triceps or elbow tendon. During yoga poses that engage the elbow, the contraction of the forearm flexors, forearm extensors, and triceps muscles can exert pulling tension on the inner and outer elbow tendons and the triceps tendon, leading to pain.

In poses such as side plank, reverse plank, tabletop, and wheel pose, the forearm flexor muscles may become overstretched or overloaded, resulting in inflammation of the tendon on the inside part of the elbow, causing inner elbow pain (also known as golfer's elbow). In a vinyasa or poses like high plank or chaturanga (low plank), the forearm extensor muscles can experience overstretching or overload, which can lead to inflammation of the tendon on the outside part of the elbow, causing outer elbow pain (also known as tennis elbow).

Lastly, in poses such as downward dog, upward dog, cobra, planche, crane, crow, and peacock pose, the triceps muscle can become overloaded, resulting in inflammation of the triceps tendon at the back of the elbow, causing posterior elbow pain (also known as triceps tendonitis).

Inner, outer, and posterior elbow pain can be either chronic (developing over time) or acute (occurring suddenly from overloading the elbow). Acute pain refers to the inflammatory pain experienced during or immediately after exercise. Suppose you are experiencing inner, outer, or posterior elbow pain while doing yoga. In that case, it is a sign of acute elbow pain.

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 muscle groups become shortened, they cause outer and inner elbow pain during yoga. 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 Images

nurudeen practicing the downward-facing dog (adho mukha svanasana)

During vinyasa yoga, Nurudeen practices chaturanga with a downward-facing dog (2019). Chaturanga into Downward-Facing Dog is a common transition in Sun Salutation A, a popular sequence in yoga. In Chaturanga, you lower the body into a low plank position. From there, the body is lifted into Downward-Facing Dog, with the hips lifted high and the hands and feet grounded. This sequence helps strengthen the upper body, especially the arms, and shoulders, while stretching and lengthening the spine and hamstrings in Downward-Facing Dog. This sequence of movements puts pressure on the elbow tendons and causes elbow pain. During this sun salutation sequence, most people experience triceps tendonitis (posterior elbow pain).

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4.  Why do I suddenly experience elbow pain without apparent cause during yoga?

The conditions that lead to elbow pain during yoga are gradual and cumulative. Over time, the repetitive use of the triceps and forearm muscles can lead to muscle restriction, causing them to become shortened and inelastic. This process of muscle restriction can take months or even years to develop.

When these muscles have become restricted for months, everyday activities like gripping objects tightly, engaging in workouts, and yoga asanas can suddenly trigger elbow pain without an apparent cause. Unfortunately, most people are often unaware of the restricted state of their forearm or triceps muscles until they experience this sudden onset of elbow pain during these activities.

5.  What causes elbow pain during yoga?

The forearm flexor, extensor, and triceps muscles actively contract during foundational yoga poses, such as the plank, chaturanga, and upward dog. As you continue to exercise, these muscles become tighter and shorter. The shortened muscles increase the elbow and triceps tendon tension, reducing their elasticity. This occurrence leads to overloading and inflammation of the tendons, resulting in elbow pain. The tendons commonly associated with elbow pain during asanas include:

  • The inner elbow tendon (medial elbow tendon).
  • Outer elbow tendon (extensor elbow tendon).
  • Posterior elbow tendon (triceps brachii tendon).

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

nurudeen practicing the plank pose (phalakasana)

Nurudeen is practicing the Plank pose during vinyasa yoga in a fitness studio (2019). Plank Pose (Phalakasana) is a foundational yoga pose that involves maintaining a straight, plank-like position with the body parallel to the ground, supported by the hands and toes. It engages the core, arms, and shoulder muscles, helping to build strength and stability throughout the body. The Plank Pose is a preparatory pose for more advanced arm balances and inversions. Side Plank (Vasisthasana) and Reverse Plank Pose (Purvottanasana) are variations of Plank Pose that offer unique benefits.

6.  Can yoga cause tendonitis?

Yes, yoga can cause tendonitis. Tendonitis refers to the inflammation of tendons, which can result in a "burning" sensation of pain around the affected joint. Prolonged contraction and tension of the triceps tendon, as well as repetitive use of the elbow during Ashtanga yoga or poses like plank, chaturanga, downward dog, and upward dog, can strain and inflame the triceps and elbow tendons, ultimately leading to the development of elbow tendonitis.

However, it's important to note that yoga is not the root cause of elbow pain. For a detailed article on the root causes of elbow pain, 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, check out our helpful guide on elbow injuries.

7.  Can you get golfer's elbow from yoga?

Yes, you can develop golfer's elbow from practicing yoga. However, it's important to note that yoga does not directly cause golfer's elbow. Instead, it can exacerbate restricted forearm muscles, triggering inner elbow pain during yoga.

Golfer's elbow, also known as medial epicondylitis or inner elbow pain, is a type of elbow tendonitis where pain occurs inside the elbow. It can develop gradually over time (chronic) or occur suddenly due to overloading the medial elbow tendon (acute). Prolonged contraction and tension, along with repetitive use of the elbow during poses such as side plank, reverse plank, tabletop, wheel pose, downward dog, upward dog, and cobra pose, can lead to overstretching or overloading of the forearm flexor muscles. This occurrence can result in inflammation of the tendon on the inside part of the elbow, ultimately causing golfer's elbow to develop.

nurudeen practicing the cobra pose (bhujangasana)

Nurudeen is practicing the Cobra Pose during vinyasa yoga in a fitness studio (2019). Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana) is a yoga posture that involves lying on the stomach and lifting the chest upward while keeping the legs and lower body grounded. It stretches the spine, strengthens the back muscles, opens the chest, improves posture, and stimulates abdominal organs. This pose provides benefits such as relieving back pain, improving flexibility and circulation, enhancing digestion, and promoting energy and vitality.

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8.  Can yoga cause tennis elbow?

Yes, practicing yoga can lead to the development of tennis elbow. However, it's important to note that yoga does not directly cause tennis elbow. Instead, it can exacerbate restricted forearm muscles, triggering pain on the outside part of the elbow.

Tennis elbow, also known as lateral epicondylitis or outer elbow pain, is a type of elbow tendonitis where pain occurs on the outer part of the elbow. It can develop gradually over time (chronic) or occur suddenly due to overloading the extensor elbow tendon (acute). Prolonged contraction and tension, along with repetitive use of the elbow during poses such as the high plank, chaturanga, and upward dog, can result in overstretching or overloading of the forearm extensor muscles. This occurrence can lead to inflammation of the tendon on the outside part of the elbow, ultimately causing the development of tennis elbow.

9.  Can yoga cause elbow bursitis?

Yes, yoga can cause elbow bursitis, which is the inflammation of the bursa in the elbow joint. There are two forms of elbow bursitis: acute and chronic. Acute bursitis can result from trauma or infection, while chronic bursitis develops gradually due to prolonged pressure on the elbows.

Yogis often experience chronic bursitis, characterized by the formation of a hard lump at the tip of the elbow bone, commonly known as a "pointy elbow." Certain yoga poses, such as Headstand, Elbow bridge pose, Forearm plank pose, Side forearm plank pose, and Forearm downward-facing dog, can contribute to chronic bursitis by exerting excessive pressure on the elbows. It is essential to be mindful of proper alignment and technique to prevent this condition. Read the complete article about elbow bursitis.

The photo on the left shows the left arm of a person with elbow bursitis. The photo on the right is an 3D illustration; a comparison between a normal versus an inflamed olecranon bursa

Side-by-side comparison of elbow bursitis: The image on the left shows a person's left arm with elbow bursitis. The 3D picture on the right shows a normal versus an inflamed olecranon bursa. Image sources: American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons and Cleveland Clinic.

10.  Can yoga cause damage to the elbows?

When performed with proper form and technique, yoga asanas, even challenging and complex poses, do not cause damage to the elbows. However, individuals with elbow tendonitis may experience a worsening 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. It can result in a loss of strength in the tendon and may even lead to tendon tear or rupture. Therefore, practicing asanas with pre-existing elbow tendonitis or triceps tendonitis (inflammatory tendon pain) can increase the risk of developing elbow tendinosis and potentially cause damage to the elbows.

Moreover, chronic inflammation in the elbow, resulting from elbow tendinopathy, can become degenerative and lead to irreversible deterioration of the elbow joint. Degenerative elbow tendonitis can also contribute to the development of autoimmune diseases such as arthritis.

Illustration of elbow tendinopathy | elbow tendon tear

An illustration shows elbow tendinopathy in the medial (inner) and lateral (outer) elbow tendons. During physical training and exercise, injured elbow tendons experience micro-tear damage, known as elbow tendonitis. As activity continues, the condition of the elbow tendon worsens and becomes degenerative, known as elbow tendinosis. Ultimately, this progression can lead to the rupture of the elbow tendon. Acute elbow pain indicates elbow tendonitis, while chronic pain suggests elbow tendinosis. Image source: Google Images

11.  Can I hurt my elbow by doing yoga?

Practicing yoga is safe and unlikely to cause injury to the elbow. However, prioritize proper form and technique, incorporate sufficient rest periods, gradually progress from gentle and easy to complex and challenging asanas, and utilize myofascial release techniques to alleviate restricted triceps and forearm muscles. These measures can help minimize the risk of injury, overuse, and inflammation. Additionally, it is essential to include an adequate warm-up and stretching routine for the triceps, forearm muscles, elbow tendons, and triceps tendons before starting your yoga practice.

12.  Can I do planks with tennis elbow?

It depends on the severity of the pain. If the pain is acute but mild, consider using short-term pain relief measures such as sports tape, kinesiology tape, elbow sleeves, elbow braces, or elbow straps to help alleviate discomfort during the exercise. However, suppose the pain is chronic, severe, or causes sharp pain while performing planks. In that case, address the underlying cause of the pain before resuming the exercise.

nurudeen performing the crane pose during a vinyasa yoga session

Nurudeen is practicing the Crane Pose during vinyasa yoga in a fitness studio (2018). Crane Pose (Bakasana) is an advanced arm balance yoga posture that involves balancing the body on the hands with the knees on the upper arms. It requires upper body strength, core stability, and balance. This pose strengthens the arms, wrists, and core muscles, improves focus and concentration, and develops overall body control. Crane Pose requires practice and gradual progression to achieve proper alignment and balance. It is a challenging pose that enhances body awareness and fosters a deep connection between the mind and body.

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13.  Can I still do yoga if I have elbow pain?

Whether or not you can continue practicing yoga with elbow pain depends on several factors, including:

  1. The severity of the pain
  2. The extent of the tendonitis
  3. The type and difficulty level of the yoga practice

The severity of the pain: If the pain is mild and acute, you can use short-term pain relief measures such as sports tape, kinesiology tape, elbow sleeves, braces, or straps to help alleviate discomfort during yoga. However, suppose the pain is chronic or severe or causes sharp pain during yoga. In that case, it is best to address the underlying cause of the pain before resuming your practice.

The extent of the tendonitis: While it might be manageable to practice yoga with a mild case of tennis elbow (pain on the outside part of the elbow), experiencing concurrent tendonitis that causes pain on the inside, outside, and back of the elbow can intensify post-exercise inflammation, worsen pain symptoms, and prolong the recovery of the elbow.

Type and difficulty level of yoga: Yin yoga, Hatha yoga, Iyengar yoga, and restorative yoga are forms of yoga that individuals with elbow pain can practice. These styles focus on gentle and relaxed poses, flexibility, working slowly, using props, and promoting relaxation. They are suitable for beginners, individuals with injuries, or those with chronic medical conditions such as arthritis.

On the other hand, Ashtanga yoga or Vinyasa flow is physically demanding and involves complex and repetitive sequences of postures. These types of yoga are best suited for healthy individuals without elbow pain who seek a physically challenging yoga experience.

nurudeen practicing the seated spinal twist pose (ardha matsyendrasana0

Nurudeen is practicing the Seated Spinal Twist during yoga in a fitness studio (2019). The Seated Spinal Twist Pose (Ardha Matsyendrasana) is a seated yoga posture that involves twisting the spine. It stretches the back muscles, improves flexibility, stimulates digestion, and promotes a healthy spine.

14.  Can yoga help fix tennis elbow or golfer's elbow?

Yes, yoga can help to fix tennis elbow or golfer's elbow when combined with ongoing myofascial release of the triceps and forearm muscles. Certain types of yoga and specific poses can serve as a form of physical therapy by stretching the forearm muscles, strengthening the elbow tendons, and mobilizing the elbow joint.

Myofascial release plays a crucial role in this process. It involves using self-myofascial release tools, such as a massage ball, to release muscle tension and restrictions. In the case of tennis or golfer's elbow, myofascial release exercises focus on removing the restricted triceps and forearm muscles, helping to maintain pliability and flexibility in these areas.

However, it's important to note that stretching and strengthening the forearm and elbow joints alone may not fully address the root cause of tennis or golfer's elbow. It is essential to address the underlying factors contributing to the condition, such as chronic inflammation, magnesium deficiency, and muscle restriction, to achieve long-term relief and recovery.

15.  Which yoga poses should I avoid with tennis elbow?

Avoid yoga poses that require excessive pressure on the wrist, bending of the elbow, or prolonged engagement of the triceps muscle, as they can exacerbate elbow tendonitis, including tennis elbow, golfer's elbow, and triceps tendonitis. Here is a list of 17 yoga poses to avoid with tennis elbow:

  1. Sun Salutation A (vinyasa yoga)
  2. Chaturanga Dandasana (Four-Limbed Staff Pose)
  3. Upward-Facing Dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana)
  4. Cobra pose (Bhujangasana)
  5. Downward-Facing Dog (Adho mukha svanasana)
  6. One-Legged Downward-Facing Dog (Eka Pada Adho Mukha Svanasana)
  7. Side Plank (Vasisthasana)
  8. Plank Pose (Phalakasana)
  9. Reverse Plank Pose (Purvottanasana)
  10. Table Top Pose (Ardha Purvottanasana)
  11. Crane Pose (Bakasana)
  12. Crow Pose (Kakasana)
  13. Handstand (Adho Mukha Vrksasana)
  14. Peacock Pose (Mayurasana)
  15. Firefly Pose (Tittibhasana)
  16. Wheel Pose (Urdhva Dhanurasana)
  17. Eight-Angle Pose (Astavakrasana)

16.  How long does it take for elbow pain caused by yoga to heal? (sharp, severe, burning pain, or dull ache)

By combining post-exercise 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 heal elbow 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 physical exercise) may provide temporary relief, it will not address the root cause of the pain, which is restricted triceps and forearm muscles that overload the elbow tendons and lead to elbow pain during yoga.

    nurudeen practicing the one-legged downward-facing dog pose (Eka Pada Adho Mukha Svanasana)

    Nurudeen is practicing the One-Legged Downward-Facing Dog during vinyasa yoga in a fitness studio (2019). One-Legged Downward-Facing Dog, also known as Eka Pada Adho Mukha Svanasana, is a variation of the traditional Downward-Facing Dog pose in yoga. In this pose, one leg is lifted and extended backward while the hands and other leg remain grounded. It combines the benefits of both Downward-Facing Dog and standing balance poses. One-Legged Downward-Facing Dog helps to strengthen and stretch the entire body, particularly the arms, shoulders, hamstrings, and calves. It also improves balance, stability, and focus.

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    17.  What options do I have to stop my elbows from hurting during yoga?

    To stop elbow pain during yoga, you have two options: using short-term pain relief remedies for temporary relief or addressing the root cause of the pain to prevent its recurrence.

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

    • Using joint supplements and vitamins
    • Taking anti-inflammatory painkillers (NSAIDs)
    • Undergoing physical therapy
    • Incorporating stretching exercises
    • Applying ice and resting the affected area
    • Wearing elbow braces or straps
    • Using kinesiology tape
    • Applying topical anti-inflammatory solutions such as oils and creams

    Option #2: Fix the root causes. To cure and prevent elbow pain from interfering with your yoga practice, fix the root causes. These include chronic inflammation, magnesium deficiency, and muscle restriction. The TitaniumPhysique Program can help you accomplish this.

    18.  How can I avoid elbow pain during yoga?

    Firstly, it's important to note that part of avoiding chronic elbow pain is preventing acute elbow pain. If you feel elbow pain during asanas, modify the pose to put less strain on your elbow. If the pain persists, stop and move on to another pose that doesn't involve your arm and elbow. Pushing through the 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 yoga, such as an overhead triceps stretch.
    2. Warm your elbow tendons with resistance band pull-apart or other suitable exercises.
    3. If you're practicing Ashtanga or Vinyasa yoga, gradually progress from gentle and easy to complex and challenging asanas to avoid sudden overload of the forearm muscles, triceps, and elbow tendons.
    4. Be mindful about not performing an excessive amount of elbow-intensive asanas.
    5. Learn and always use proper form and technique. You can check out this video playlist to learn the various techniques for yoga asanas.
    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, 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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