Explaining Weightlifting Elbow Pain 

 

Feel like you’re being held back with your weight training because of elbow aches? If elbow twinges are causing even minor disruption to your workouts you need to address the issue and figure out what exactly is causing the pain, before it’s too late. Weightlifting elbow pain is quite common and, as pain is our body’s way of sending out a warning signal, even if you feel you can keep going, you should not ignore it. Overworking the tendons and ignoring the pain can lead to a worsening of the condition caused by small traumas within the elbow.  

 

What are the causes of weightlifting elbow pain?

You’ve heard of golfer’s elbow and tennis elbow but can’t quite explain why you get elbow pain from lifting weights. Chances are it’s one of these two most common types of elbow pain – named because they were initially thought to pertain exclusively to people who played these sports. We now know it’s not a sport, but the action carried out while practicing the sport, which causes the injury. The type of movement in both golf and tennis, and the muscles, ligaments, and tendons used to make these movements, are seen in many other sports, including weightlifting (yes, you can get tennis elbow from lifting!). Anyone who uses repetitive movement in the forearm and elbow is at risk – painters and decorators are an example of this category.

Golfer’s elbow: in medical terms, medial epicondylitis, is a condition recognized by inflammation or irritation of a tendon. In fact, it is a type of tendonitis. Small tears in the tendon which connects the elbow to the wrist are caused by repetitive movements, overuse or an injury. The tears will cause pain and inflammation to the area.  

Tennis elbow: medically known as Lateral epicondylitis, is a very painful condition that produces severe burning pain around the elbow bone. What starts off as mild pain usually gets much worse over time. Lifting objects, particularly with extension of the wrist will worsen the pain (hence often seen in weight lifters who experience elbow pain when lifting and gripping weights). The pain is caused by an inflammation of the tendon that attaches the muscle to the bone on the outside of the elbow. This is why your elbow hurts when lifting and why we see many sufferers getting tennis elbow weightlifting! Seen in many sports, the gripping action of holding a racket can increase the risk of tennis elbow, however many other work-related movements, where the forearm is used repeatedly, plumbers; DIY enthusiasts or even knitters are at risk!

 

What are the symptoms of elbow pain from lifting weights?

Symptoms of pain in the elbow when lifting usually develop over time, and slowly. It may start off as an annoying niggling pain while you are doing your workout. You may notice it more when gripping or lifting. The pain will build up and might even feel hot and/or swollen. Sometimes the pain may be felt further down the forearm, especially when it is stretched. Reduced grip strength is also a symptom of weight lifting elbow pain. You may notice your elbow hurts after lifting weights.

Other symptoms might include inner elbow pain from lifting weights, or pain on the bony part on the inside of the elbow. Weightlifters may notice a weakness in the wrist when lifting or on wrist flexion. If the pain is really bad it can sometimes disturb sleep.

 

What treatment is available for Weightlifting Elbow Pain?

In most cases weight lifting elbow pain will resolve itself if action is taken on time, correct advice is given, and the methods of pain relief are followed. If you notice that your elbow hurts after lifting, remember early intervention is crucial and results in faster recovery and a quicker return to your normal life. Here are some of the more common aids:

Self-care is of utmost importance and the RICE method should be implemented as soon as possible:

Rest– take a break from weightlifting or the specific activity that is causing the pain.

Ice– place an ice pack on the elbow to reduce pain (15-20 minutes should suffice).

Compression– compress the area with a bandage to help contain pain and reduce swelling. Make sure the bandage is not too tight!

Elevate– raise the arm so that it is above the level of your heart. This will reduce swelling, as there is less blood going to the area, and will, therefore, reduce inflammation.

The RICE method has been used for a long time and is successful in treating most muscle related swelling and inflammation and is successful in elbow joint pain treatment. The RICE method should be implemented every 4-6 hours to obtain best results.

NSAIDs– a common treatment to relieve acute pain – these anti-inflammatory meds can be bought over the counter and are also available in cream and gel forms and are applied directly to the painful area, elbow or forearm.

Physiotherapy– manual therapy techniques like massage and manipulation may need to be carried out by your physiotherapist and will most definitely help with pain relief and stiffness. The massage works to help enhance blood flow to the arm. Your physiotherapist will also be able to give you a program of exercises to follow which you can do by yourself in your home.

They may recommend the use of an elbow brace for weight lifting for a short while.  Having weight lifting elbow support gives protection to the elbow area while you are lifting. An elbow compression sleeve can help reduce the pain and it can also help prevent future injuries.

 

How to prevent weightlifting elbow pain

Weight lifting elbow pain is caused by strain on the tendons and is difficult to prevent completely, but by being aware of what causes it you may be able to avoid the condition or prevent the symptoms from getting any worse.

The best method of prevention is self-care and self-awareness.

If you notice elbow pain lifting weights, you should stop doing the activity that is causing the pain or at least finds another way of doing that exercise so you aren’t putting the tendons under stress.

Get advice from an expert – a properly trained coach will have an expert eye and will see mistakes in the movement that you are not aware of.  They can help you with your technique to avoid sore elbow from lifting weights.

It is always important, before any type of physical activity, to stretch and warm up properly – this can help avoid injury.

Follow the advice from your physiotherapist on exercises to help build up, and strengthen, the muscles in the forearm. This can also be a way of avoiding future injury or pain.

Living with elbow pain can make your life miserable, stopping you carrying out your day to day activities and doing the sports you love. At the office of Dr. Daniel Schwartz, we are experts in the assessment and treatment of elbow pain. Dr. Schwartz is a specialized orthopedic surgeon and will give you the best treatment with care and expertise that you will find anywhere. Please give us a call or click here to send us an email with your queries and we will be delighted to reply and help you in any way possible.