Experiencing elbow pain from lifting weights or sports is probably one of the most common injuries people experience. In this article we will go through how to heal elbow pain.
Almost all serious lifters and sportsmen have elbow joint problems at some point in their training career. I used to love pull ups - I would do them in every workout for minimum of 5 sets.
The pull ups put a huge toll on my elbows and my right elbow joint got seriously hurt. It took a lot of research and experimenting to actually find out what actually works and how to heal elbow pain from pull ups.
All chronic injuries are a result of structural imbalances and overuse injuries. However, I believe most "overuse" injuries are often a result of structural imbalance in the body. They key is to build structural balance in the hands, forearms and arms to avoid elbow joint injuries.
Study the pictures below and find out which elbow joint pain you are experiencing. Likely your elbow pain condition is the tennis elbow on the left.
Disclaimer: I am not a physiotherapist or a physiatrist. I've merely gone through the process of fixing myself and done tons of experimenting on myself to find what actually works. In case of a serious injury, please contact your physiotherapist for advice.
Tennis Elbow (lateral epicondylitis)
This is the most common way people hurt their elbows with pull ups.
Tennis elbow (you don't have to play tennis to get the tennis elbow) is a tendonitis in the outer part of the elbow where the outer part becomes sore and hurt.
Golfer's Elbow (medial epicondylitis)
Golfer's elbow is the tendonitis of the medial epicondyle of the elbow where the medial part becomes sore.
Golfer's elbow is not as prevalent as the tennis elbow, but it's possible to attain this injury.
What To Do If You Are Injured
1. Stop doing the exercises that cause pain
This should be a no-brainer, but most people will still continue with their training despite the elbow pain. I have done this too and it's extremely stupid.
2. After the injury, take a minimum of 4 weeks of rest
4 weeks seem like a long time, but in the training career that supposedly lasts for decades, 4 week is only a drop in the bucket.
If it doesn't get any better after 4 weeks of rest, then you should start doing the necessary mobility exercises in order to rehabilitate your elbow joint.
3. Try exercise variations that do not cause elbow pain
In case your elbow pain is chronic and you can't stay out of the gym, try different variations that do not cause elbow pain.
If you are experiencing elbow pain from pull ups, then stop doing pull ups completely or try different variations such as neutral-grip pull ups.
4. Visit a good physiotherapist or a physiatrist
The physiotherapist or the physiatrist needs to have expertise in this area.
Most common physiotherapists will give maybe one basic exercises (which we have listed in this article) and it might not be enough.
Mobility Exercises For Elbow Pain
Pronated dumbbell curl
Reasons for your elbow pain can be the imbalances in your arms and forearms. Negative pronated dumbbell curls will strengthen the brachioradialis muscle, which protects the elbow joint from stress.
Start with light weights 2.5 - 10 lbs (1.25 - 5 kg) and work your way up. Just do the negative portion of the repetition. You can lift the weight up using two arms, and then lower it very slowly with just one arm.
Focus on the flawless execution and take between 3 to 5 seconds to lower the weight. If you experience pain with the negative portion of the repetition, then use lighter weights or completely avoid this exercise (focus on resting instead).
You can do pronated dumbbell curls for 5 to 10 repetitions for 2-3 sets per session. You can do these every day or every other day.
Straight Arm Seal Progressions
This is a drill I learned from a rock climber. Many rock climbers praise highly this exercise, because it actually works when it comes to healing the elbow joint. I tried this and my elbow pain got much better as well.
Rock climbers are the experts of elbow problems, because they experience so many of them.
In rock climbing and wall climbing the tennis elbow is extremely common, because the climbers are continuously pulling themselves up without sufficient antagonist work like push ups to counterbalance the pulling work.
Straight arm seal is a great exercise to improve the tendon strength in the elbows and as a result, hopefully fix the elbow pain. It has clear progressions as well.
Moreover, this exercise is a very beneficial mobility drill to improve the elbow tendon strength even if you aren't injured.
You can do these drills every day or every other day for 10-15 seconds for 3-5 sets per session.
Lazy Straight Arm Seal
Press your elbows close to your stomach and keep them straight under your bodyweight. Lift your legs by placing pressure to your arms.
This should feel in the elbows.
Straight Arm Seal
In this progression you are lifting your hips and legs as high as you can to increase the pressure on your elbows. You should aim to do this by pressing your hips up with the assistance of your arms.
The harder variation is to bend your knees and try to lift your hips even higher.
Voodoo Floss Band for Elbow Pain
No one is sure how or why voodoo floss bands seem to heal elbow pain, but they do work! I have used voodoo floss bands and they do dramatically lessen the pain in the elbows.
Some theories suspect that the benefits of the voodoo floss band are because of nerve flossing/tension, tissue hydration and increasing the blood flow in the elbow.
The effect is often only temporary though, which is why voodoo floss band is a great way to warm-up the elbows for your workout.
How to use voodoo floss band for elbow pain:
- Wrap the band tightly around your elbows until it's completely used.
- Keep the wrap on for several minutes. Feel the blood flow stop in your arm.
- Take off the wrap, rest for a minute or two, and then start your workout.
Voodoo floss bands can also be used for any other joint of the human body: knees, ankles, shoulders and wrists.
Any elastic band or floss band will suffice. You can get a proper voodoo floss band from here.
Focus on Structural Balance
If your injury is chronic, structural imbalance in your body is likely the reason behind it. What you want to do, is to work on your weaknesses and focus on muscle groups you haven't used so much.
All chronic injuries are often a result of structural imbalance.
If you have always done chin ups, start doing pull ups with a pronated grip instead. If you have always done regular bicep curls and grip work in flexion, then do pronated bicep curls and extension grip work instead.
The key to get better is to strive for maximal balance in strength, mobility and muscle mass. Most mobility drills for elbow pain are just designed to target the weak links of your body.
Work on the structural balance, do the mobility drills demonstrated in this article and take a sufficient rest, and you should be able to recover. If not, contact a physiatrist for further advice.
Train hard, stay safe.
Many , many thanks for your advice . Have been doing pullups for years – but recently my elbow was so painful – I couldnt even touch my chest without pain .
The seal exercise has really helped .
Happy to hear Gregg. One thing that can also help is training properly all elbow extensors and flexors. It’s very likely that there are imbalances in the muscles / range of motion.
This simple solution is almost always the right one. The most likely muscles that have imbalances are the medial head of triceps, brachialis and pronator teres, but every case is individual.
Elbow flexors: https://vahvafitness.com/biceps-elbow-mobility/
I have Golfers elbow (flexor tendinitis) from chin-ups.
Extremely important to completely stop chin-ups for at least 4-8 weeks.
An excellent rehabilitation (and compound strength exercise) do in the interim (and also to do as a preventative when elbows are better) is using a roller bar with weights hanging off a rope. keeping strict form to not flex/extend elbow and keeping elbow fixed in space, slowly roll out the string and roll it back up again. You may have to stand on a platform or bench (or balcony at home) to fully roll out and back up again.
This exercise works out the inflamed muscle fibres from a different loading angle to chin-ups and in the negative and positive phases. Plus, you will retain your strength and intact have gorilla grip strength too when you return to chin-ups.
PS: I’m not a physio but am an anaesthsiologist so have asked around for advice from colleagues who know.
IS THAT WITH ELBOWS AT YOUR SIDE? OR OUT IN FRONT AT A 90 DEGREE ANGLE?
For the (lazy) straight arm seal, is it palms facing the floor or facing the ceiling?
Palms are facing the floor in all variations
Thank you. Sometimes you hear with Golfer’s elbow that you should stop pull or chinups but dips is ok to continue. What do you think of this? Is it ok to do dips (and pushup) when you have golfer’s elbow? I seem to notice it more with pulling movements instead of pushing movements.
to vodoo floss the elbow effectively, one should wrap tightly below the joint- make sure the end section of the band is tucked under the applied section in such a way that it can be released quickly with minimal effort as the forearm will get the senation of going to sleep rather quickly- which is unnerving to many people. Once it is applied ( apply it with arm fully extended)- bend and straight elbow vigurasly throughout the full range of motion. Be sure to pronate/supinate the forearm to get every corner of the joint. Release the band quickly once the forearm starts to ‘fall asleep’. Afterwards bend and straighten your arm and notice how freely it moves- as if someone just oiled it.
Repeat same technique above the joint as well.