5 Exercise Mistakes that Lead to Elbow Pain
We can all agree that exercise and training are important aspects of life whether it is to reach a specific goal or to simply live and move well for the rest of our lives.
Like the stock market, life has its ups and downs and with any type of physical activity comes a risk of getting injured along the way. I have never heard of anyone who has never gotten injured to some degree playing a sport or continually participating in physical activity; the risk will always be there. However having a proper training program and mindset are crucial in minimizing major injuries and allowing yourself to move positive steps forward rather than falling behind in your goals.
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One of the most common areas affected by pain and injury is the elbow. Being a smaller, hinge joint coupled with constant and potential overuse make this joint susceptible to pain and even long-term injury.
The most common form of elbow pain is tendonitis which is an inflammation of the muscle tendons that manifests anywhere from a light or burning pain either at rest or with activity along the outside (tennis elbow) or inside (golfer’s elbow) of the elbow.
Causes of tendonitis occurs a variety of ways mainly through a repetitive activity like hitting hundreds of golf balls in a week. However it may not simply be repetitive work causing your elbow pain; poor mobility, mechanics, lack of strength and a poor training program all degrade the quality of repetitive work you are allowed to do and therefore may lead to elbow pain.
Though keeping yourself free from elbow issues for the rest of your physically active life is not guaranteed there are ways to minimize the chances of either having pain for too long or avoiding it for a long time especially if we avoid the exercise mistakes listed below.
Mistake #1: Ignoring Mobility and Flexibility Limitations
First thing is first; if you are dealing with elbow pain there is a very good chance that your elbow itself is not the problem; looking above and below the chain is highly advised. Tight shoulders or wrists that do not allow for proper range of motion during the daily and sporting activities lead to compensation of movement and added stress to the next joint and the elbow is right in the middle and takes the brunt of it.
Check your shoulder and wrist flexion, extension and rotation and add these drills into your daily mobility warm up and recovery.
Mistake #2: Not Focusing on Technique
No matter how good you are at your craft, having a coach to help correct inefficient or technically poor movement patterns is a must. All of the best athletes have coaches and though you might not have the income of a high level athlete, it is worth it to spend a session or two with a high quality coach that can correct your technique to help treat and prevent tendonitis from reoccurring.
Maybe your throwing mechanics are incorrect in certain positions when you play. Maybe you have a lack of flexibility, stability or strength in the affected joint. A good coach will detect this and put you on the right path. Your health and well being should be the most priceless possession you own; care for it and spend what you need to maintain and get the best out of yourself.
Mistake #3: Doing too Much of the Same Movements
If you have some elbow pain creeping in it’s also time to take a training program audit. Does you training day consist of bench press flat and incline followed by push ups, chin ups and a dumbbell bicep curl finisher? If so, you may want to give the old elbows a rest and try some squats for once. Joking aside, sometimes we don’t even realize how much stress we put on our joints during the day.
Even if your workouts are fairly balanced and of the full body variety; we still have to think of the other daily tasks that we perform. Did you have a huge lifting session in the morning only to play 18 holes of golf with the boys in the afternoon? Or did you lift on the Friday right before a weekend ladies’ singles tennis tournament? Do you sit at a computer and right-click your mouse more times than you can count during the day? These three examples add more stress to the elbow joint and the muscles, tendons and joints; repetitive motions with or without other factors like proper rest, strength and technique can all lead to elbow joint inflammation.
Understanding what your weekly routines demand on your body and spacing out the stress on the elbow joint and finding time to rest and recover are essential for keeping your elbow joint from becoming inflamed and keeping you away from physical activity.
Mistake #4: Doing too Much Work Too Soon
Whether you are new to an exercise program or sport, or whether you decided to dust off the racket and hit the court again since high school you have to be smart about the amount you do when adding something new.
The initial focus should have one based on technique building, low volume and then an assessment for 1-2 days afterwards to see how it affected your body. Just some minor muscle soreness; great you are good to go and start increasing the amount of work you do and maybe even add in a competitive match down the road.
Being progressive with your activity, being aware of the feedback your body provides and getting adequate rest is a great recipe for avoiding elbow pain and creating a long-lasting routine for yourself.
Mistake #5: Training Through Pain
We touched on this above during the days following a new activity; your body provides you great feedback and it’s in our best interest to listen to what it’s saying. I know that’s easier said than done. There is the old adage no pain no gain and then there is the other side of the coin represented by the canned medical professional’s advice “resting, icing and stretching and don’t do anything for 6 weeks.”
If you are physically active you are not immune to some type of negative result from time to time, however though experience I find myself in between the meathead lifter and the passive doctor because my body is giving me my own personal information that I can use to evaluate and progress going forward.
I have had elbow pain before and it is usually caused by chin ups. When I needed to increase my pull up numbers for a certification my pull up volume increased and a few weeks into my training a dull elbow pain on one side began to emerge. Now I knew that I could not train the same way I was or else it was going to get worse, nor could I scrap everything and not progress.
I assessed what I could be doing to cause the irritation and I narrowed it down to the chin ups but not the exercise itself, it was more of a shoulder rotation inhibition that was causing more stress through the elbow joint.
I added more shoulder and wrist mobility before my training, changed from chin up (underhand) grip to a pull up (overhand) grip and made sure I did a lot of stretching in the area following training and the pain subsided.
With more mobility work under my belt I have recently been able to add chin ups back in and my elbow had not barked at me in a while.
Slight pain is not a bad thing if it is respected and utilized as an indication that something needs to change or else there could be a larger problem down the road. Unless completely detrimental to your joint’s safety, activity need not be ceased, simply modified to address the problem and get you better and over your elbow pain.
I hope this protocol helps you prevent elbow pain and tendonitis. Check out the video for more details of the wrist and shoulder mobility and stretching protocol described above. Now go out and make it happen.
BONUS: ELBOW PAIN VIDEO EXPLANATION
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