Pain is the body’s #1 warning sign that something is wrong and we should address the problem before it gets worse. Even if you are able to train around joint pains, it still doesn’t mean that you should ignore them.
For most people with elbow pain, a little bit of soft tissue work and corrective exercises can help decrease, or even eliminate the elbow pain. These corrective exercises are especially important if you work at a desk for a large majority of the day. Working at a desk combined with an intense training regimen can wreak havoc on joints such as your elbows.
The following is a simple guide to helping prevent and manage elbow pain from weight lifting.
NOTE: If your elbow pain is severe, chronic, or worsening, you should consult with your doctor right away. It’s worth the time and money to get an x-ray and consult a medical professional. It’s better to be safe than sorry because you are going to be using your elbows for the rest of your life.
Elbow Pain Causes
The most common cause of elbow pain I see on a daily basis is from overuse or repetitive motion from desk jobs. Over time, things like typing, reaching for something across your desk for a phone, or even regular bench pressing, or pushups can be deleterious to the health of your elbows.
Eventually small tears can begin accumulating in the surrounding tendons, which may cause inflammation and pain. This can become significantly worse as the tendon repairs and scar tissue forms around the area creating a lack of blood flow.
Elbow Pain Symptoms
Elbow pain can come from the inner or outer part of your elbow, and in some cases the pain can radiate down your arm. Anything from a muscle strain, to tendon strain, tendonitis, bursitis, arthritis, a fracture, or dislocation can cause elbow pain. The most common forms of elbow pain from overuse, or repetitive motions are muscle, or tendon sprains.
Most people will notice pain when twisting the forearm or wrist, especially while holding onto something heavy like a dumbbell.
Elbow Pain Treatment
First and foremost, the best way to treat elbow pain is to find the source of the pain and eliminate it at least temporarily. If you continue to do what caused the pain in the first place it is safe to say that the pain will linger.
Here are 5 strategies to help you mitigate, or even eliminate elbow pain:
Elbow Pain Treatment #1 | Get a Massage
Chances are that the pain in your elbow is the consequence of a muscle imbalance or soft tissue restriction elsewhere in your body.
For example, if you lack proper tissue length in your pecs and/or lats you will struggle when trying to externally rotate your shoulder (turn your hands outwards away from your body). You can only get away with this for so long until you have to press something over your head.
The two options here are to get a massage from a licensed professional or use daily self myofascial release (SMR) on your upper back, pecs, biceps, and lats. The better you move throughout your upper body, the better your elbows will feel.
Elbow Pain Treatment #2 | Stretch Your Elbow and Wrist Flexors
This goes along with #1 as it relates to the mobility of your upper extremities. If your elbows, wrists, and shoulders are tight you risk damaging the soft tissue around these joints .
In conjunction with foam rolling and SMR, it is a good idea to stretch these areas after improving the quality of the tissue.
One stretch I have become a huge fan of using with many of my clients is the elbow and wrist flexors stretch. You extend your elbow and wrist and gently use your opposite hand to pull them into greater extension.
Elbow Pain Treatment #3 | Limit Arm Isolation Exercises
In other words, ditch the single joint exercises like bicep curls, tricep kickbacks, and shoulder flies. Trust me on this one. Working the elbow joint in isolation is a sure fire way to keep that pain coming back.
Instead, opt for full body exercises like pushups, pull-ups and bodyweight rows once your elbows are feeling a little better. This will ensure that your elbows are stabilized by more muscles than just your biceps and triceps.
I have found that laying off the isolation stuff for even just a little while will help your elbows feel exponentially better. This way your training won’t skip a beat.
Elbow Pain Treatment #4 | Supplement With Omega-3s
Reducing inflammation is just one more reason you should be supplementing with Omega-3s or fish oil. This can help with the reduction of swelling and formation of scar tissue in your elbows.
The other option would be to get more Omega-3s in your diet from fish, walnuts, flax seeds and chia seeds. Sprinkling flax or chia on your breakfast or salads is a simple way to make sure you are getting them in daily as fish isn’t always the easiest option.
Elbow Pain Treatment #5 | Swap The Barbell For Dumbbells
I know this one may be hard to swallow for many bench press addicts but switching to dumbbell exercises temporarily might be one of the best ways to ease chronic elbow pain from training.
We all possess imbalances or asymmetries to some extent. Take for instance the hand with which you write. Chances are it is the same hand you throw with or carry your briefcase with. We all have a dominant side.
If you have apparent shoulder motion asymmetries, dumbbells should be swapped for all of your favorite exercises such as bench press, rows and overhead presses. Your elbows will thank you!
Summing It All Up
Just because you have elbow pain doesn’t mean you were born with “bad” elbows. Your best bet is to identify the cause then practice some of these strategies to keep you training longer and harder.
I hope this article has helped you gain some knowledge and insight into some of the possible causes of elbow pain and how you can eliminate or reduce that pain before you give up training all together.
As a reminder, if your elbow pain is severe, or worsening, it’s worth consulting a doctor right away. Let me know if you have any questions and I will answer below.
Steve is a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist holding a BS in Exercise Physiology from Bridgewater State University. He is a biomechanist, personal trainer, competitive powerlifter, writer and public speaker who specializes in getting his clients strong and looking good.