The elbow is a simple hinge joint crossed by the biceps, triceps and forearm muscle groups. Many common elbow injuries affect the local tendons – which attach muscles to bones – and these injuries can be resilient to treatment, but focusing on form in the gym can help prevent them from occurring, as physio Simon Rice of Pure Sports Medicine explains.
1. Triceps tendinopathy
‘Heavy bench pressing is a common cause of this injury, which is characterised by an ache at the back of the elbow that improves during the session but gets worse afterwards,’ says Rice. ‘The triceps muscle acts to straighten the elbow, and tendinopathies often occur when its tendon is overloaded and poor technique is used.’
‘Before heavy pressing, warm up with isometric triceps push-downs on a cable machine. Hold the weight for 15 to 20 seconds with your elbows bent at 90°. If you start to get symptoms, alter your press-up and bench press technique by bringing your elbows in as close to your sides as possible.’
2. Tennis elbow
‘Pulling exercises, which involve gripping tightly, can put a lot of pressure on the outside of your elbow, especially when done with heavy weights. That can lead to pain in that area, which can spread to your forearm and hand.’
‘Alternate your grip when doing pulling exercises and increase the weight gradually. If symptoms start, change all pulling exercises to an underhand grip (for example, chin-ups instead of pull-ups) or neutral grip (ie bent-over rows with dumbbells instead of a barbell). Using thick grips or towels wrapped around the bar can take the pressure off the elbow too.’
3. Elbow synovitis
‘The elbow is a capsular joint, which means it’s encased in a thin lining. Synovitis is a condition where that lining becomes irritated and inflamed, and it’s common in people who often hyperextend their elbow.’
‘Avoid locking out your elbow when doing pressing exercises, especially press-ups.’
4. Referred neck pain
‘Dysfunctions in the middle and upper spine can produce pain in the arm and elbow. It’s common in people with deskbound jobs and those who do overhead lifts with poor technique.’
‘Work on thoracic mobility in your warm-up. To do this, get on all fours and bring one hand behind your head. Rotate your bent elbow towards the ceiling as far as you can, then return to the start. Repeat for 30 seconds on each side. Then lie on a rolled-up towel so it runs across your back level with your shoulder blades. Rest your head on the floor and relax for 20 seconds. Sit up and move the towel a few centimetres down your back and repeat. Do that five times.’
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