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Trainer Q&A: Why Does My Elbow Hurt During Workouts?

Our expert explains the cause of elbow pain and what to do about it.
Trainer Q&A: Elbow Pain prevention

Q: Why does my elbow hurt during workouts?

There are many conditions that can affect the elbow, but the most common is lateral epicondylitis, or “tennis elbow.” This condition is a process called tendinosis, or a degeneration of the tissue, not to be confused with tendinitis—an inflammation.

Cells called fibroblasts form collagen, but due to repetitive stress on the tendons, the collagen is formed irregularly and reduces the strength of the muscle, which leads to constant injury and eventually tearing. Each time the collagen is torn, scar tissue is formed in the tendon, further weakening it.

Performing the same routines in the gym, neglecting to train every muscle group, and lifting excessively heavy weights are the most common causes of elbow pain, all of which create muscular imbalances and increase the strain on the joint. 

Q: How do I prevent this condition? 

Train your body from a variety of angles with proper lifting technique and always warm up before workouts and stretch after. To ensure pain-free muscle growth, correct all muscle imbalances and train both your flexors and extensor muscles of your forearm equally (wrist curls and reverse wrist curls).

For peak muscular conditioning, change the rep range during your exercises. For example, train using an 8- to 10-rep range, then the next week perform exercises in the 12- to 15-rep range or higher. The purpose is to hit both type I and II muscle fiber types.

Q: My elbow has a nagging pain. How can I train around it?

First and foremost, avoid exercises that cause pain and extreme elbow extension when locking out during the concentric portion of the exercise. If possible, reduce the weight you're lifting and perform slower “negative” reps. You can also wear compression wraps for support—but make sure they're not too tight or blood flow will be restricted. 

For pain relief, use manual muscle tissue work and joint techniques (foam rolling). If your elbow pain won't go away, consult  an orthopedic doctor or physical therapist to discuss proper pain-relief remedies.

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