Your triceps are an important muscle in the back of your arms. They help you extend your arms, provide strength for pushing, and help keep an overall balance in your upper body.
Tendons connect your muscles to your joints and bones. The tricep tendons are fibrous but flexible tissue that starts in the middle of the triceps and attaches to the elbow bones. They can become inflamed and painful when you overwork them and don’t allow them enough time to rest and recover.
What Is Triceps Tendonitis?
When you work your triceps through exercise or other activity, you can get microtears, or small injuries, in them. These microtears happen often and are usually nothing to be concerned about. Microtears usually cause mild muscle soreness. When you rest the muscles, your body sends blood and nutrients to the area and your muscles develop and grow larger.
If you don’t allow your triceps to rest and keep working them, larger tears happen faster than your body can repair them. This can be painful. The tears will weaken your tricep tendons and could cause tricep tendonitis.
The symptoms of tricep tendonitis are:
- Pain in the tendon caused by movement
- Swelling in the tendon that is sometimes accompanied by heat
- A grating feeling when moving the tendon
- Redness in the tendon that can get darker over time
Tricep tendonitis usually affects athletes or people who use their triceps to perform forceful movements. It also affects some men in their forties.
What Causes Tricep Tendonitis?
Tricep tendonitis is common in people who play certain sports or lift weights often. People who start a fitness routine or sport and do too much activity too soon also often get this condition. It’s your body’s way of telling you that you’ve overworked the muscle. Tricep tendonitis happens over time, not all at once.
Some factors that often cause tricep tendonitis are:
- Repeated overuse or extension of the tricep tendon
- Forceful movements like bench-pressing or hammering
- Movements that aren’t natural to the body, like overextension of the arm
- Poor form or technique when performing physical activity
- Sudden sharp movements
Some cases of tendonitis can be treated at home by resting the affected tendon for up to three days. While resting your muscle, you can try the following:
- Avoid movement. Don’t move your arm or tricep for 2–3 days. Rest it and keep from moving it as much as you can.
- Ice the area. Hold a bag of ice wrapped in a towel or a bag of frozen peas on the tendon. Keep it there for 20 minutes every three hours.
- Brace. Try using a brace or supportive bandage to support the muscle. The support device should be snug but not tight. Take it off before you go to bed.
Don’t resume any forceful or sharp movements until the tendon has fully recovered and the pain is gone.
When to See a Doctor
It might be time to see a doctor if your symptoms don’t get better after you rest and ice the area for three days. Other signs that you need to see a doctor include:
- Redness and swelling of the tendon that doesn't go away
- Extreme pain and tenderness
- Symptoms that get worse even after rest and limited movement
Diagnosing Tricep Tendonitis
Before diagnosing you with tricep tendonitis, your doctor will ask you about your symptoms and when your pain started. They might press on certain areas of your arm to see if they're painful and check your range of motion.
If they think you might have tricep tendonitis, they may order some tests to see what’s happening inside your arm and check for infection or other issues. These tests could include:
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
- X-rays to check the surrounding bones
- Joint aspirations to test for infection
Your doctor might recommend a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) drug such as ibuprofen or naproxen to help with the pain and reduce swelling. NSAID creams can also help with pain and are applied topically to the area.
If your symptoms don’t improve after these treatments, your doctor might recommend a steroid injection. In rare cases, you might need surgery.
How to Prevent Tricep Tendonitis
Although there’s no guaranteed way to prevent tendonitis, there are steps you can take to limit your risk.
- Warm up. Warming up the muscles increases blood flow and lessens your risk of injury.
- Perform exercises correctly. Take time to learn the proper way to perform exercises. This reduces your risk of injury and gives you better results.
- Don’t overwork yourself. Overexercising tired muscles can cause bigger tears in the muscle and tendonitis.