How to Treat Elbow Pain from Weightlifting

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Don’t accept elbow pain as a normal part of your workouts. Here’s how to identify and address this common issue before it disrupts your weightlifting routine.

If elbow aches and twinges have been disrupting your workouts, it’s time to identify and address your pain before the condition worsens. Medial elbow pain, which occurs on the inside of the elbow, is known as golfer’s elbow, while lateral pain (on the outside) is commonly called tennis elbow. Both conditions require changes to your fitness routine, and in some cases call for a specialist’s intervention.

GOLFER’S ELBOW

Despite its popular name, medial epicondylitis is common in weightlifters, as well as other athletes who regularly use the forearm and elbow. The wrist flexor tendons, which bend the wrist forward, connect to the inner elbow and can cause pain throughout the forearm. The resulting  discomfort may be the result of inflammation, as in tendonitis, or tissue degeneration, a form of wear and tear known as tendonosis.

Symptoms of golfer’s elbow include moderate pain in the inner elbow, although a burning sensation can extend down into the forearm as well. You may find that the joint is stiff, and as the condition progresses your wrist and hand will become weaker, with possible numbness in the fingers.

TENNIS ELBOW

In weightlifters, lateral epicondylitis is caused by inflammation or micro-tears in the tendons that extend from the outer elbow into the wrist and fingers. This condition is often caused by placing stress on the wrist extensors, which bend the hand into the high-five motion. Gradual discomfort may turn into burning pain, extending into the forearm and wrist, along with heat and swelling. You may have trouble gripping your weights, and feel pain in the elbow joint when you try to twist the wrist.

One common cause for tennis elbow is overuse of the elbow and forearm. While the condition is usually related to racket-based sports, weightlifters may develop pain if they repeat the same motion over and over or go too heavy with their weights. Even typing can stress these tendons,  so if you go straight from an office job to the gym, your arm may not be getting the rest it needs.

ELBOW PAIN TREATMENT AND PREVENTION

To prevent elbow pain, engage in proper form as you lift, avoid using excessive weight, and don’t repeat the same arm-stressing routines at every workout. Be sure to warm up and stretch beforehand, and use compression wraps for additional support. The key to preventative training is balance — strengthen both the flexor and extensor muscles in your wrists with wrist curls and reverse wrist curls. You can even train both types of muscle fibers by switching up the number of reps: for example, 8-10 reps will affect muscles differently than 12-15 reps.

If you’re already experiencing symptoms, your first course of action should be to take a break from exercises that cause you pain. Some at-home treatments include using heat packs and gentle stretching to relieve your pain. You may also want to consider wearing a brace, which can prevent your pain from worsening. If the pain continues, conservative treatment is still the best course of action. Anti-inflammatory medication may relieve the ache, and in some cases your doctor will recommend anti-inflammatory injections to reduce pain as you complete a physical therapy program.

Your physical therapist will likely recommend engaging in low-weight strengthening exercises, often using cuff weights. It may take four to six weeks of rehabilitation before you can return to your normal routine. If conservative treatments are not successful, minimally invasive surgery may be necessary to repair or remove the damaged tissue. After surgery you can expect two months of rest, then an additional four to six months of physical therapy to fully recover.

The doctors at New York Bone & Joint Specialists are experienced in treating tennis elbow, golfer’s elbow, and other similar conditions. Set up an appointment with us today!

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