Triceps Tendonitis: Signs You Have It and How to Treat It, According to Physical Therapists
Pain from triceps tendonitis can get in the way of your usual activities, but simple arm exercises can provide welcome relief.
Your triceps are a key player in your body’s movement. They have the important job of stabilizing your shoulders and allowing you to push and pull. Every time you lift a grocery bag, pull open a door, or push a shopping cart, your triceps are activated.
Though it’s not very common, pain in your upper arm near your elbow can be a symptom of triceps tendinitis (tendonitis) — a condition that occurs when the tendon that connects your tricep muscle to your elbow bone becomes irritated. This condition may be more likely to affect people who do certain activities, like swimmers or weightlifters. (Triceps tendinitis is often referred to as “weightlifter’s elbow.”)
The good news: Your triceps muscles and tendons are strong and resilient, and there's a lot you can do to help them recover and avoid further irritation, says Gwen Smith, PT, DPT, a physical therapist at Hinge Health.
Read on to learn more about triceps tendinitis: what it is, what causes it, and how to get relief with exercises from our Hinge Health physical therapists.
Our Hinge Health Experts
Gwen Smith, PT, DPT
Dylan Peterson, PT, DPT
Jonathan Lee, MD, MBA
What Is Triceps Tendinitis?
Triceps tendinitis is inflammation of your triceps tendon, the tough, flexible tissue that attaches the triceps muscle at the back of your upper arm to your elbow bone. “You use the triceps muscle to straighten your arm, so if it’s sore or swollen, you may have a harder time doing daily activities like taking out the trash or even pushing yourself off of a chair or bed,” says Dr. Smith.
Symptoms of Triceps Tendinitis
Common triceps tendinitis symptoms include:
Pain when you straighten or bend your elbow
Tenderness at the triceps muscle and tendon
Swollen triceps (you may also notice swelling near the point of your elbow)
Redness in the tendon that can darken over time
A grating feeling when you move the joint
Common Causes of Triceps Tendinitis
A couple different factors can contribute to why you might develop triceps tendinitis. They include:
Doing more activity than your body is ready for. The main cause of triceps tendinitis is going past your movement sweet spot, or doing a little too much too often before your body is ready. “We often see triceps tendinitis in swimmers and weightlifters because they are repetitively training the tricep and arm muscles, like when you do an overhead triceps press," says Dr. Smith. “If you're training or competing at too high an intensity without adequate recovery too often it can increase your risk of developing triceps tendinitis.
Injury. A direct blow to your triceps muscle or tendon — like falling directly onto the tip of your elbow — can cause inflammation and tendinitis.
Treatment Options for Triceps Tendinitis
Remember how you used to hear about RICE (rest, ice, compression, and elevation) when you nursed a sports injury? The thinking on this go-to solution has changed over the years. Now, Hinge Health physical therapists, among many other experts, recommend a different approach focusing less on rest and more on movement and rehabilitation. This approach to triceps tendinitis treatment uses the acronyms PEACE and LOVE:
Protect the injured area by scaling back on activity that causes pain, but not avoiding movement entirely.
Elevate the injured area above your heart to reduce swelling that will make it harder for you to move.
Adjust anti-inflammatories, like ibuprofen. It’s best to limit their use, as high doses can impact tissue healing. But if you’re in a lot of pain or your symptoms are limiting your function and movement, talk to your doctor about whether it’s safe for you to use them. Another option is an over-the-counter topical NSAID gel like diclofenac (Voltaren), which may also help to reduce inflammation.
Compression. If it hurts to move your arm, a compression brace may help for the first few days or weeks after injury. Just make sure you exercise without the wrap as you strengthen the triceps muscles and tendons.
Education. Learn to listen to your body. It will tell you when an activity is too much for your biceps. A physical therapist can help you tune in to these clues, too.
The LOVE part of the PEACE & LOVE acronym should begin a few days after an injury as you’re on the road to recovery. “Movement is important for triceps tendinitis, because it encourages blood flow to the area, which promotes healing,” says Dr. Smith.
Load the injured area by gradually returning to normal activities, using pain as your guide. Know that some tricep pain during or after activity is okay. “I tell patients that anything under a five out of ten is fine,” says Dr. Smith. “I encourage them to stay within this range to avoid pain flare ups”
Optimism. This involves believing that you have the capacity to heal and can return to meaningful activities.
Vascularization means increasing blood flow to the injured area by engaging in exercise you can handle.
Exercise, or an active approach to recovery, restores mobility and strength. You can use pain as a guide to gradually progress your exercise and increase difficulty. And don’t shy away from resistance training when you have triceps tendinitis. Research shows that well-designed exercise programs that include gradually increasing resistance weight training helps to relieve all forms of tendinitis, including triceps tendinitis.
Physical therapy can be very important for triceps tendinitis, not just because you learn specific stretching and strengthening exercises for your tendons, but because it helps you find your movement sweet spot, says Dr. Smith. This way, you can continue to engage your triceps muscles, as your body adjusts to tolerating more activities and movements.
You can see a physical therapist in person or use a program like Hinge Health to access a PT via telehealth/video visit.
Exercises for Triceps Tendinitis Relief
The above triceps and arm exercises and stretches are recommended by Hinge Health physical therapists to help treat symptoms of triceps tendinitis. “These all help to teach you to load your triceps muscle without overworking it,” says Dr. Smith.
The information contained in these videos is intended to be used for educational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice or treatment for any specific condition. Hinge Health is not your healthcare provider and is not responsible for any injury sustained or exacerbated by your use of or participation in these exercises. Please consult with your healthcare provider with any questions you may have about your medical condition or treatment.
PT Tip: Keep Up With Overhead Moves
“Many people may avoid overhead exercises because it can be painful to the triceps,” says Dr. Smith. “However it's important to continue moving your shoulders and elbow joints so they don't become stiff.”
How Hinge Health Can Help You
If you have joint or muscle pain that makes it hard to move, you can get the relief you’ve been looking for with Hinge Health’s online exercise therapy program.
The best part: You don’t have to leave your home because our program is digital. That means you can easily get the care you need through our app, when and where it works for you.
Through our program, you’ll have access to therapeutic exercises and stretches for your condition. Additionally, you’ll have a personal care team to guide, support, and tailor our program to you.
See if you qualify for Hinge Health and confirm free coverage through your employer or benefit plan here.
This article and its contents are provided for educational and informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice or professional services specific to you or your medical condition.
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Tiwana, M. S., Sinkler, M. A., & Bordoni, B. (2020). Anatomy, Shoulder and Upper Limb, Triceps Muscle. PubMed; StatPearls Publishing. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK536996/
Scott, A., & Purdam, C. R. (2023, September 20). Overview of the management of overuse (persistent) tendinopathy. UpToDate. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/overview-of-the-management-of-overuse-persistent-tendinopathy#H23
O’Connor, F. G. (2023, August 31). Evaluation of elbow pain in adults. UpToDate . https://www.uptodate.com/contents/evaluation-of-elbow-pain-in-adults#H1198165
Casadei, K., Kiel, J., & Freidl, M. (2020). Triceps Tendon Injuries. Current Sports Medicine Reports, 19(9), 367–372. doi:10.1249/jsr.0000000000000749