Can you get tennis elbow from lifting weights? The short answer is: YES! Serious/elite weightlifters understand gains don’t come from working on the weakest muscle range. They therefore try to lift as heavy as possible during their exercise routines. Unfortunately, “high force” in the context of static weightlifting still means “high for the weak range of motion?’ Chronic soreness of the joints along with more serious injuries occur as a result. The most typical overloading injury is tendinitis of the elbow, also known as golfer’s elbow or tennis elbow.
A brief outline of injury
The most common elbow injury, tennis elbow (also called lateral epicondylitis), is a repetitive-use (overuse) injury of the tendon that extends the wrist through the muscles of the forearm and attaches to the outer (lateral) elbow. When you repeatedly bend your wrist backward to turn your hand face up, the muscles and tendons become inflamed from overuse. This causes the outer pan of the elbow to become painful and tender. Tennis elbow tends to occur in athletes who have less experience in their sports, making teenagers particularly at risk.
Therefore, as already mentioned, the affliction is usually related to either overuse of the muscles attached to bone at the elbow, or, less frequently, direct trauma to the elbow.
Anatomy and physiology
Tendons attached to the bones of the elbow can become restricted or taut, causing irritation. The lateral epicondyle is a bony attachment located on the top of the forearm, near the elbow. Various muscles attach to the lateral epicondyle, including the anconeus and supinator muscles, involved in rotating the forearm to the palm-up position. Strain or overuse of extensor muscles (which lift the wrist away from the palm), can also cause tennis elbow.
Cause of injury
Overuse of the muscles attached to the elbow. Direct injury to the elbow. Arthritis, rheumatism, or gout.
Signs and symptoms
Symptoms of tennis elbow include pain on the outside of the elbow that gets worse when you put pressure on it or try to lift things with your palm facing down; for example, you may feel the pain when you pick up a cup to take a drink. You will also feel the pain when you rotate your hand as you would screw in a light bulb or turn a doorknob, or when you squeeze something like a golf club, a tennis racquet, or someone’s hand when you shake it. You may also feel it when you try to wash or comb your hair.
Tennis elbow can also strike the inner side of the elbow, in which case you will feel the pain when you turn your wrist so your palm faces down. Tennis players who develop this type of tennis elbow—also called medial epicondylitis or “golfer’s elbow”—tend to hit a lot of topspin on their forehand shots, forcing them to snap their wrists. Athletes in sports that also involve wrist snapping—such as baseball, softball, and other throwing sports—are also at risk for this type of tennis elbow.
Who is at the greatest risk for developing tennis elbow?
Tennis elbow is so named for a reason – tennis players are most vulnerable to injury because of the repeated use of the elbow during play. Novice tennis players are more at risk, due to improper mechanics. Tennis players who hit the ball late on a backhand are most at risk for tennis elbow. The backhand forces a player to shift the weight onto his or her back foot and compensate by bending the elbow and wrist, which strains the muscles and tendons of the forearm.
Golfers are also at risk for tennis elbow but on their nondominant side. For example, a golfer who is right-handed will feel the pain of a tennis elbow on the left arm. The injury results when the golfer pulls the club through the swing with the left wrist.
Other sports that put athletes at risk for tennis elbow include baseball and softball, racquetball, football, rugby, bowling, hockey, lacrosse, skating, swimming and other water sports, volleyball, and wrestling. Certain daily activities – when done repeatedly – can lead to tennis elbow, including typing or using a computer mouse.
Weightlifting and tennis 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 tendinosis.
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.
Although chest, triceps, and shoulder movements may all exert strain on the elbow, incorrect bicep curls are the most prevalent cause of golfer’s elbow and tennis elbow from lifting weights. Also, if you always do the same one or two types of bicep curls, your arms and elbows are repetitively stressed by the same forces.
To avoid repetitive stress injuries, it’s important to vary your strength training exercises. Also, when doing biceps curls avoid gripping the bar or dumbbell too tight, and using too much weight. Always try to keep your wrist in a strong, neutral position throughout the curl. Allowing your wrists to roll forward will activate the flexor tendon and can lead to inner elbow pain.
Exercises to avoid if you have tennis elbow
- Bench presses, pushups, and chin-ups
- Wrist exercises
- Straight-arm exercises
Treatment for tennis elbow
If you have tennis elbow, the pain during your everyday activities will soon get to the point that you’ll do anything for relief. Simply avoiding playing tennis or the sport that caused your injury unfortunately won’t be enough to treat it.
- Avoidance of the activities causing repetitive stress to the elbow.
- R.I.C.E.R. regimen for 48-72 hours following injury.
- Use of anti-inflammatory drugs and analgesics.
- Cortisone injections
- Shock wave therapy
- Exercises to improve range of motion
- Physical therapy
Complications if left unattended
Tennis elbow is generally treated without surgery, though discomfort will often worsen with the potential for tendon or muscle damage, should the condition be ignored.
Rehabilitation and prevention
Often, a splint or bandage will be used to immobilize the injured elbow and prevent excess movement. Activities involving repetitive stress to the elbow or extensor muscles of the wrist should be avoided until the condition improves. Should surgery be required, a rest period of six weeks is advised before strengthening exercises begin.
Few patients suffering from tennis elbow require surgery, and of the small percentage that do, between 80% and 90% find the condition markedly improved.
What’s the Difference between Little League Elbow, Golfer’s Elbow, and Tennis Elbow?
The elbow is not a large joint, so it can be difficult to tell if the pain there is due to tennis elbow, golfer’s elbow, Little League elbow, or another elbow injury. Here are some tips on how to tell the difference:
- Tennis elbow leads to pain on the outside of the elbow and gets worse when you apply pressure to the area or try to lift things with your palm facing down.
- Tennis elbow is usually aggravated when you try to extend your wrist or middle finger against resistance. You can try to do this as a self-test.
- A golfer’s elbow is similar to a tennis elbow, but the injury occurs on the inside rather than the outside of the elbow.
- Golfer’s elbow leads to pain that radiates into the forearm and wrist, stiffness in the elbow, weakness in the hands and wrists, or rarely, tingling that radiates to the fingers.
- The pain of a golfer’s elbow may get worse when you shake hands, turn a doorknob, squeeze or pitch a ball, or swing a golf club or tennis racquet.
- Golfer’s elbow pain may also get worse when you shake hands or try to lift something with the palm facing upward.
- Little League elbow is difficult to differentiate from golfer’s elbow because the two injuries are connected. However, you will notice symptoms of Little League elbow, which include pain and swelling on the inside of the elbow, during/after pitching or throwing.
- Someone suffering from Little League elbow will complain of pain and swelling on the inside of the elbow that came on after pitching for an extended period of time.