Feeling elbow pain when lifting weights or doing strength training?
Here's what might be causing it, and how to fix it as fast as possible.
For many people, lifting weights and doing general strength training causes a lot of stress and discomfort on their joints.
Whether it's knee pain during barbell squats, or shoulder pain doing basically any upper body movement, it can be extremely limiting in terms of your performance and frustrating to have to deal with.
And one of the more common types of joint pain in strength training would be elbow pain, usually experienced on pressing exercises such as the bench press, the shoulder press, the push up, and so on.
Many people simply cannot perform these exercise with even the slightest bit of intensity due to this issue, and it can have a pretty serious impact on your gains in the long run if you don't find a way to fix it.
Luckily there are ways that we can fix it, and there are ways that we can do it fast.
In this post we're going to go over what might be causing your elbow pain when lifting, how to fix it as quickly as possible and tips that you can use to prevent these types of issues in the future.
Let's dive right into it!
What Causes Elbow Pain When Lifting?
There are a number of possible causes for your elbow pain when lifting, and it's important that we determine the right one so that you'll know the best way to go about fixing the issue and preventing it in the future.
Lifting With Improper Form
Perhaps the most likely reason for your elbow pain when lifting is improper technique when training or exercising.
When you lift weights, you also need to be sure that you're not training with the incorrect form and placing your elbow in disadvantaged or dangerous positions.
For example some exercises can end up putting dangerously large amounts of force on your elbows if performed incorrectly, such as the bench press or push up.
On exercises like these, placing your hands in unusual places can cause you to place a lot of the weight onto your elbows, away from your wrists and shoulders.
This is more likely to happen if you take an abnormally narrow grip width, shifting the load onto the elbows and almost isolating them away from the support of the wrists and shoulders.
Now one bad repetition of an exercise like this performed incorrectly likely isn't going to cause you too much trouble.
However if you constantly lift or train like this and don't give your elbows the support or protection that they need, then this is likely to lead to problems such as elbow pain when lifting.
Think about it.
If you were to do a few hundred push ups and barbell presses throughout the course of the week, all with incorrect form that places too much stress on the elbows, the small amounts of damage are going to quickly add up and lead to some pretty irritating discomfort in your elbows over time.
This overuse can then lead to problems outlined below such as tennis elbow or osteoarthritis.
Too Much Intensity
Training with too much intensity can also cause you to suffer elbow pain when lifting.
If you're lifting weights and try to use too heavy of a load, you'll run the risk of placing too much stress on your elbows (and other joints) before they're actually strong enough to handle those loads.
Even if you lift with the most perfect technique, you can still hurt yourself and cause gradual damage to your joints if you use too much weight.
Try to be sensible with the intensity of the exercise that you do.
You can push yourself hard, but you shouldn't put your body at risk in order to do so.
Even doing something like push ups can cause you elbow pain when lifting.
If you consistently do too many reps and put your elbows under stress without adequate breaks, that too can cause you to experience pain or discomfort.
Again, this can lead to the injuries such as tennis elbow and osteoarthritis outlined below.
Please note: simply using your elbows and joints too much can also lead to wear and tear. Just like using too much training intensity, you can still hurt yourself over time if you don't give your elbows the break that they need.
Tennis elbow (also known as lateral epicondylitis) is quite a common type of injury that affects many athletes of all kinds.
To have a tennis elbow means to have torn or swollen the tendons located next to the elbow bone.
It can have serious impacts on your ability to perform basic lifting movements such as gripping objects, twisting and carrying loads with your arms.
According to this study conducted by Jonathan Winston and Jennifer Moriatis, it's suggested that severely overusing the elbow joint or using too much tobacco (probably not that relevant) are the two primary causes of tennis elbow.
If you notice that you've got the following symptoms, you likely have a case of tennis elbow:
sharp pains in your elbow when moving it
swelling at the elbow
a lingering ache in your elbow.
Elbow Injuries or Accidents
This should be pretty obvious. If you've recently had some sort of injury involving the elbow, then you've likely got your answer as to why you have elbow pain when lifting.
For example if you've recently fallen and hit your elbow hard on the ground, then this might lead to some sort of elbow injury such as a fracture or a dislocation if the accidents are severe enough.
An elbow fracture would be caused by hitting or colliding the joint into another hard object at a high speed or with force.
A dislocation of the elbow would also be caused by similar accidents, however it occurs when your upper arm separates or becomes forced out of natural alignment with the forearm bones.
You'd probably know already if you had either one of these injuries as they are pretty severe.
An elbow fracture is likely to cause you the following symptoms:
bruising at the elbow
looking 'out of place'
weakness in the arm.
An elbow dislocation is likely to cause you the following symptoms:
losing the ability to feel anything in your elbow
inability to move the elbow, or the surrounding joints (wrist, fingers, etc.)
having no pulse in your elbow.
Treating Elbow Pain When Lifting
Treating your elbow pain effectively comes down to knowing what caused your discomfort in the first place, and having the right knowledge under your belt.
There are a number of tings that you could do to help cure your elbow pain, which I'll list down below and explain.
This should be the most obvious thing to do if you're experiencing elbow pain when lifting.
If you're feeling any form of pain due to an injury, then stop what you're doing immediately.
Put simply, pain is your body's way of letting you know that what you're doing isn't good for you, and telling you to stop before the consequences of what you're doing become too bad.
If you keep trying to 'push through the pain', you're only going to risk making the injuries worse.
Even if you think you're being tough, think about what it's going to do to you if your injuries become worse and you have to stop training altogether for weeks or months.
Give your elbows and joints the rest that they need. It's the only way to give them a chance to recover.
No matter how your elbow injuries or pain was caused, you should stop lifting (unless otherwise specified by your doctor).
Really, your elbow pain should gradually heal and recover on its own as long as you give it the chance to rest and repair itself.
Serious injuries may require professional medical attention, but for the majority of you, your problems are going to go away if you just let your elbows rest.
Over-the-Counter Medication (OTC)
If your elbows are causing you pain over the most simple actions or physical tasks, then it might be time for you to take over-the-counter medications to reduce the pain.
It's not always possible for us to completely stop our physical activities.
Some people work more physically demanding jobs, and taking too much time off would cause detriment to their budgets and bank accounts.
Other people might get lingering pain that occurs whenever you do any sort of physical task, even as simple as carrying a box around the house or opening a door.
If this happens, then it might make sense to take some over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen.
This isn't going to provide any long term relief for your injuries, but it's going to allow you to get through the days without too much pain.
If you take these medications and can get through the days without causing yourself too much more trouble, then most elbow injuries will fix themselves after a couple weeks or so.
Wearing Elbow Braces
If you don't want to take your painkillers and the lingering pain is stopping you from getting through your everyday tasks, then it might be a good idea for you to try wearing elbow braces to relieve some of the stress from the elbows.
Wearing an elbow brace is going to provide you with some more support and helps reduce the pain that you might feel when lifting.
When Should You See a Doctor About Your Elbow Pain?
While most elbow injuries can be treated and healed directly from home, there are still some more severe ones that will require medical attention.
For example if you notice that there are deformities on your elbow or that it's unusually shaped, then it's going to be a smart idea to consult a doctor in case you've fractured, broken or dislocated your elbow.
And if you give your elbows proper rest for a while and notice that it isn't getting better at all, then it's going to be important for you to go see a doctor in case it's something that won't heal on its own.
Above all else, you can simply go and see a doctor if you prefer or you're unsure and want to.
There's no harm in going to double check with the doctor that nothing has gone seriously wrong.
One bad injury without the right treatment could be enough to kill off your gains and hard work. It's not worth it.
It's always better to be safe than sorry!
The takeaway: If you feel that you should go see a doctor, then go do so. You want to be as safe as possible when it comes to your own health.
Preventing Elbow Pain When Lifting in the Future
We're willing to bet that you'd rather not face another elbow injury like the one you've got.
That's why we'll now give you some tips to help you prevent these injuries in the future, and keep lifting pain-free.
Don’t Go Heavy on an Exercise Before Learning the Right Form
Like we mentioned earlier, lifting with incorrect form or technique can cause you to place unnecessary stress on your elbows and joints.
To prevent this, we recommend learning the right form on your strength training exercises and gradually building up the weight or intensity until you reach a weight that challenges you.
Start on a light weight, and make sure you can do it without any sort of a challenge at all.
Then, after you learn the form you can go up to heavier loads.
Always Warm Up the Elbows
Before you do any intense lifting, always make sure that your elbows are warmed up and primed for the workout session ahead.
This ensures that the elbows aren't met with any big shocks that could cause sudden ruptures or tears in any of the surrounding parts, which could lead to injury and more elbow pain when lifting.
Just a couple of push ups and warm up sets, as well as some cardio involving the upper body (like skipping ropes or battle ropes) is going to be a pretty good way to warm up.
Keep Yourself Hydrated
Keeping yourself hydrated and ensuring that you've had enough to drink is going to delay the muscle fatigue (which can lead to form breakdown), and also keep everything in your body functioning as well as possible.
If you let yourself become dehydrated, your overall performance is going to drop and the chances of things going wrong increase drastically.
Elbow pain when lifting sucks.
It has annoying effects that hinder your workouts and really take away from the whole training experience.
However, with the right knowledge in determining the causes and recommended treatment, these issues can not only be resolved, but reduce and possibly even prevented altogether in the future.
Just take the information provided in this article to the back of your mind, as elbow or other joint injuries are sure to pop up from time to time!
We hope you've enjoyed reading this post and share it with your friends so that we can help more people reach their goals in fitness, safely!
Have you had elbow pain when lifting in the past?
Let us know in the comments below!