Lifter's Elbow - A Guide To Prevention And Recovery

Mar 22, 2024

Lifter's Elbow

Do you experience pain or numbness in your elbow from lifting weights? Read more to learn about "Lifter's Elbow" and how it can be treated.

For gym-goers and athletes, elbow pain can be a frustrating and limiting condition that interferes with training and performance. One common cause of elbow discomfort among lifters is known as "lifter's elbow" or medial epicondylitis. In this blog post, we will discuss lifter's elbow and its causes, symptoms, and effective treatment strategies to help you overcome this challenging condition and get back to your normal training routine.


What is Lifter's Elbow?

“Lifter's elbow”, also known as medial epicondylitis or golfer's elbow, is a condition characterized by pain and inflammation on the inner side of the elbow, near the bony bump called the medial epicondyle. This area is where the tendons of the forearm muscles attach to the bony prominence of the inner elbow. Lifter's elbow typically develops due to overuse or repetitive stress on these tendons, leading to microtears, inflammation, and pain.

What causes Lifter’s Elbow?

Several factors can contribute to the development of lifter's elbow, including:

  • Repetitive Movements: Engaging in repetitive movements that stress the forearm muscles, such as lifting weights, performing curls, or gripping exercises, can strain the tendons and lead to lifter's elbow over time.
  • Poor Lifting Technique: Incorrect lifting technique, such as using excessive wrist flexion or gripping too tightly, can place undue stress on the tendons and exacerbate the risk of developing the lifter's elbow.
  • Overloading: Excessive training volume, intensity, or progression without adequate rest and recovery can overload the tendons in the elbow, increasing the risk of injury and inflammation.
  • Muscle Imbalances: Weakness or imbalance in the forearm muscles, particularly the flexor muscles on the inner side of the forearm, can contribute to lifter's elbow by placing greater stress on the tendons during lifting movements.
  • Age and Biomechanical Factors: Age-related changes in tendon structure and biomechanical factors such as joint alignment and flexibility can also influence the risk of developing lifter's elbow.


What are the symptoms of Lifter’s Elbow? 

  • The hallmark symptom of lifter's elbow is pain and tenderness on the inner side of the elbow, near the medial epicondyle. Other common symptoms may include:
  • Pain with gripping or lifting objects
  • Weakness or difficulty performing lifting movements
  • Stiffness and restricted range of motion in the elbow
  • Pain that radiates down the forearm or into the wrist
  • Swelling or inflammation around the affected area

How can Lifter’s Elbow be treated? 

Effective management of Lifter's elbow often involves a combination of conservative treatment strategies aimed at reducing pain, inflammation, and restoring function. Here are some recommended approaches:

  • Rest and Modification of Activities: Initially, resting the affected arm and avoiding activities that exacerbate pain can help alleviate symptoms and prevent further irritation of the tendons. Modify lifting techniques and reduce training volume to allow for adequate recovery.
  • Ice Therapy: Applying ice packs or cold therapy to the affected area can help reduce pain and inflammation. Apply ice for 15-20 minutes several times a day, especially after lifting or aggravating activities.
  • Compression and Elevation: Using compression bandages or wearing a compression sleeve around the elbow can help reduce swelling and provide support. Elevating the affected arm above heart level when resting can also aid in reducing swelling.
  • Stretching and Strengthening Exercises: Gentle stretching exercises for the forearm muscles can help improve flexibility and alleviate tension in the tendons. Gradually introduce strengthening exercises targeting the forearm muscles to improve stability and support around the elbow joint.
  • NSAIDs and Pain Relief: Over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen or naproxen can help reduce pain and inflammation. However, use NSAIDs cautiously and follow the recommended dosage guidelines.
  • Physical Therapy: Working with a physical therapist experienced in treating sports-related injuries can provide tailored rehabilitation exercises, manual therapy techniques, and guidance on proper lifting mechanics to address lifter's elbow effectively.
  • Ultrasound therapy or therapeutic taping may be used in conjunction with other treatment approaches to help alleviate pain and promote healing in the affected tendons.
  • Gradual Return to Activity: Once symptoms improve, gradually reintroduce lifting activities and exercises, focusing on proper form, technique, and progressive loading to minimize the risk of reinjury.


In some cases, more invasive interventions such as corticosteroid injections or surgery may be considered for severe or refractory cases of lifter's elbow. However, these options are typically reserved for individuals who do not respond to conservative treatment measures.


How can you prevent Lifter’s Elbow? 

Prevention is key to minimizing the risk of Lifter's elbow and other weight lifting-related injuries. Here are some preventive strategies to consider:

  • Warm-Up and Mobility Work: Prior to lifting, perform a thorough warm-up routine that includes dynamic stretching, foam rolling, and mobility exercises to prepare the muscles and joints for activity.
  • Gradual Progression: Avoid sudden increases in training volume or intensity, and progress weightlifting routines gradually over time to allow the body to adapt and recover adequately.
  • Proper Technique: Focus on maintaining proper lifting technique and form during exercises, paying attention to wrist position, grip strength, and avoiding excessive stress on the elbows.
  • Cross-Training and Variation: Incorporate cross-training activities and variation into your fitness regimen to reduce repetitive strain on specific muscle groups and joints.
  • Listen to Your Body: Pay attention to early warning signs of discomfort or pain and modify activities as needed to prevent overuse injuries. Incorporate rest days and recovery strategies into your training schedule.

Lifter's elbow can be a challenging condition to manage, but with the right approach, it is often possible to alleviate symptoms and prevent recurrence. By understanding the causes, symptoms, and treatment strategies for lifter's elbow, you can take proactive steps to address this common issue among weightlifters and maintain a healthy, injury-free training routine. If you're experiencing persistent or severe elbow pain, you can consult with one of our healthcare professionals at Garden State Pain and Orthopedics for an accurate diagnosis and personalized treatment plan tailored to your needs.

You can schedule an appointment by selecting the “Book Now” button at the top of the page. 

Provider Spotlight: Matt Jensen, PA

Matt Jensen is an empathetic professional dedicated to bringing relief to patients through the broad range of safe and minimally-invasive pain management options currently available in the field. Jensen understands the challenges that injuries and chronic pain can cause more than some would know. 

Growing up in Oakland he played basketball and baseball as a teen and sustained a number of injuries, including a broken ankle and stress fractures in his lower back, he was on the patient side of the health care relationship. This eventually underwent successful surgery on his ankle. “I got introduced to the field of medicine, orthopedic surgery and pain management during that time and have so much respect for the practice and its practitioners, because I saw that you can get injured but then recover and be back to full functionality under the supervision of skilled doctors and physical therapists.” 

Since graduating from The College of New Jersey in 2018 with a degree in Health and Exercise Science and the New York Institute of Technology in Old Westbury, Long Island in May with an MS in Physician Assistant Studies, Jensen is using his positive past experience as a patient to inform his approach to his own patients. “I had a great experience and got excellent care,” he said. “Similarly, I want to put my patients first and provide the best care possible.” 

In his role as a PA at Garden State Pain & Orthopedics, is important but when he’s not caring for patients, Jensen remains an avid sportsman. “I enjoy playing basketball with my friends and working out, and I’m also getting married this fall, so I spend a lot of time with my fiancée,” he said.