Elbow Pain When Lifting: Causes, Prevention, and Treatment

12 Mar 2024, by

Dr. Lusine Badalian

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Elbow pain when lifting is a common condition that can significantly impact daily life and physical activity. It arises from various causes, including overuse injuries, incorrect lifting techniques, and specific health conditions. This condition encompasses several types, such as inside elbow pain, inner elbow pain, and discomfort even when lifting light objects. 

Addressing this pain involves understanding its origins, implementing effective treatment strategies, and employing preventive measures. Early intervention and tailored care are essential for recovery and maintaining an active lifestyle free from elbow pain.

elbow pain when lifting

Causes of Elbow Pain When Lifting

Elbow pain when lifting is not just an annoyance—it can be a sign of underlying issues that need attention. Understanding the causes is the first step towards managing this condition effectively. Here are some of the main reasons why you might experience pain in your elbow during or after lifting.

Overuse Injuries

One of the most common causes of elbow pain is overuse. Engaging in repetitive lifting movements, especially without proper form or rest, can strain the muscles and tendons around the elbow joint. This strain can lead to conditions such as tendonitis, where the tendons become inflamed and painful. It's crucial to give your body enough time to recover between intense activities to avoid overuse injuries.

Incorrect Lifting Techniques

Using incorrect lifting techniques can place undue stress on the elbow joint and surrounding tissues. Lifting objects that are too heavy or doing so without engaging the correct muscle groups can lead to sharp elbow pain when lifting. It’s essential to learn and practice proper lifting techniques, like keeping the weight close to your body and using your legs rather than your back or arms to lift.

Underlying Health Conditions

Certain health conditions, such as arthritis or nerve compression syndromes, can cause pain in the elbow when lifting light objects or even during everyday activities. These conditions can lead to joint inflammation, nerve damage, and decreased mobility, exacerbating the discomfort associated with lifting.

Types of Elbow Pain

Elbow pain when lifting can manifest in various forms, significantly affecting one’s ability to perform daily activities and maintain an active lifestyle. Understanding the different types of elbow pain associated with lifting is crucial for identifying the right approach to relief and prevention. Here, we delve into two common types: outside elbow pain and inner elbow pain when lifting, providing insights into their causes, symptoms, and initial steps for management.

Outside Elbow Pain When Lifting

Experiencing pain on the outside of the elbow when engaging in lifting activities can be indicative of several conditions, often related to overuse or strain of the muscles and tendons. This type of pain can range from a mild discomfort to a sharp elbow pain when lifting even light objects, affecting not only athletes but also individuals in certain professions or those undertaking new physical routines. Here are key aspects to understand about outside elbow pain:

  • Causes: This discomfort is frequently associated with lateral epicondylitis, also known as tennis elbow, a condition stemming from the overuse of the muscles and tendons of the forearm, leading to inflammation and pain around the outside of the elbow. Activities that involve repetitive wrist and arm motions can contribute to this condition.
  • Symptoms: Individuals may notice a gradual onset of pain or burning on the outer part of the elbow, which might worsen with specific movements, such as lifting, gripping, or twisting objects. The pain may also radiate into the forearm.
  • Management Tips: Initial steps to manage outside elbow pain include:
    • Resting the affected arm and avoiding activities that exacerbate the pain.
    • Applying ice to the elbow for 15-20 minutes several times a day can help reduce inflammation and pain.
    • Engaging in gentle stretching exercises designed to strengthen the forearm muscles, improving their capacity to handle the stresses of lifting and other activities.

Inner Elbow Pain When Lifting

Inner elbow pain, commonly known as tennis elbow, involves the tendons that attach to the lateral epicondyle of the elbow—the outer part. Despite its name, tennis elbow affects not just athletes but anyone who performs repetitive gripping activities. 

  • Causes: The condition arises from the overuse of muscles in the forearm that allow you to rotate your arm, flex your wrist, and grip. This repetitive strain can lead to small tears in the tendons attaching these muscles to the elbow, leading to pain and tenderness on the inside of the elbow.
  • Symptoms: Symptoms include pain or tenderness on the inner side of the elbow, stiffness in the elbow, and weakness in the hands and wrists. The pain may intensify with forearm activity, such as holding a racket, turning a wrench, or lifting weights.
  • Management Tips: For those suffering from inner elbow pain when lifting, consider the following:
    • Rest and ice the affected area to reduce inflammation and alleviate pain.
    • Use an elbow strap to protect the injured tendon from further strain.
    • Perform specific exercises to gently stretch and strengthen the forearm muscles.

 

According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), tennis elbow is more common between 30 and 50 years of age, highlighting the role of age and activity level in its development. Implementing ergonomic adjustments to daily activities and work tasks can help alleviate the strain on the affected tendons, promoting healing and reducing the risk of recurrence.

Elbow Pain When Lifting Light Objects

It may seem surprising, but elbow pain can also occur when lifting light objects. This type of pain usually indicates an overuse injury or inflammation where even minimal stress on the elbow can cause discomfort. It's a signal from your body that the tendons or muscles around the elbow need rest and possibly medical attention. 

Identifying and treating the underlying causes of this sensitivity is key to recovery and preventing further damage. Early intervention, such as adopting a proper lifting technique and engaging in therapeutic exercises, can significantly enhance the healing process and restore elbow function more effectively.

Risk Factors for Elbow Pain When Lifting

Certain factors can increase the likelihood of developing elbow pain related to lifting. Being aware of these risk factors can help in taking preventive measures.

  • Age: Individuals within certain age groups may be more prone to conditions like tennis elbow, possibly due to the cumulative wear and tear on the tendons over time.
  • Occupation: Jobs that involve repetitive movements of the wrist and arm, such as construction work, painting, or typing, can increase the risk of elbow pain.
  • Sports Involvement: Engaging in sports that require repetitive arm movements, especially those involving gripping, can elevate the risk of developing elbow issues.
  • Physical Condition: A lack of muscle strength or flexibility can contribute to the risk of elbow pain, as it may lead to overcompensation in certain movements and increased strain on the elbow.

 

Recognizing the signs early and utilizing resources like the Docus AI Symptom Checker can prevent the condition from worsening and help maintain a healthy, active lifestyle. While online tools are valuable for gaining insights into your symptoms, it's important to remember that it's not a substitute for professional medical advice. Always consult a healthcare professional for a comprehensive diagnosis and treatment plan.

Complications of Elbow Pain When Lifting

Ignoring elbow pain, especially when related to lifting, can lead to several complications that may significantly impact your ability to perform daily activities and maintain an active lifestyle. Here are some potential complications:

  • Chronic Pain: Persistent elbow pain when lifting can evolve into a constant discomfort that affects everyday life.
  • Reduced Mobility: Without proper treatment, you might experience a decrease in the range of motion in your elbow, making it hard to perform basic movements.
  • Muscle Weakness: Long-standing elbow pain can lead to the weakening of the muscles around the elbow joint, affecting your grip strength and arm stability.
  • Joint Degeneration: Continuous stress on the elbow without adequate rest and treatment can lead to more serious conditions like arthritis or joint degeneration over time.
  • Increased Risk of Further Injury: Weakened or compromised elbow joints are more susceptible to sprains, strains, and other injuries, even when performing light tasks.

Treatment of Pain in Elbow When Lifting

Managing pain in the elbow when lifting  effectively requires a comprehensive approach tailored to the individual's specific condition and needs. Here are more detailed strategies and useful tips for treating elbow pain, especially when related to lifting activities.

Rest and Ice: The Foundation of Recovery

  • Prioritize Rest: Temporarily halt any activities that exacerbate your elbow pain. Giving your elbow time to heal is crucial for recovery.
  • Ice Therapy: Apply ice packs to the affected area for 15-20 minutes every few hours to reduce inflammation and numb the pain. Always wrap the ice in a cloth to protect your skin.

Physical Therapy: Strengthen and Mobilize

  • Consult a Physical Therapist: A professional can assess your condition and tailor exercises specifically for your needs, focusing on strengthening and flexibility.
  • Targeted Exercises: Engage in exercises designed to strengthen the muscles around the elbow and forearm. This could include wrist flexor and extensor exercises.
  • Flexibility Work: Incorporate stretching exercises to improve the flexibility of your elbow joint and surrounding muscles, reducing the risk of further injury.

Bracing or Splinting: Support Your Elbow

  • Wear a Brace: A brace or splint can provide support to the elbow joint, reducing strain on the tendons during healing. It can be particularly effective for conditions like tennis elbow.
  • Proper Fit and Use: Ensure the brace is properly fitted. A healthcare professional can advise on how and when to wear it for maximum benefit.

Medication: Manage Pain and Inflammation

  • Non-prescription Options: Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can help manage pain and reduce inflammation. Always follow the recommended dosages.
  • Topical Treatments: Consider using topical NSAIDs if you prefer not to take oral medications. These can provide localized pain relief with fewer systemic effects.

Injection Therapy: For Severe Cases

  • Corticosteroid Injections: These may be recommended for severe inflammation. They can offer temporary relief but should be used sparingly, as frequent use can weaken tendons over time.
  • Platelet-Rich Plasma (PRP) Injections: An emerging treatment that involves injecting a concentration of a patient’s own platelets to accelerate healing.

Surgery: A Last Resort

  • When Necessary: Surgery might be considered if your elbow pain does not improve with non-surgical treatments and significantly interferes with your daily life.
  • Types of Surgery: Surgical options may include cleaning out the tendon, repairing the tendon, or other procedures depending on the specific diagnosis.
  • Post-Surgery Rehabilitation: Recovery involves rest, followed by physical therapy to restore strength and flexibility.

Useful Tips for Treatment

  • Heat Therapy: Applying heat before exercises can help relax the muscles and increase flexibility. Use a warm towel or heating pad for 10-15 minutes.
  • Ergonomic Adjustments: If your job involves repetitive motions, adjust your workstation to reduce strain on your elbow.
  • Pacing Yourself: Gradually increase the intensity of your activities to avoid overloading the tendons and muscles.
  • Stay Hydrated: Adequate hydration is vital for tissue health and recovery.
  • Nutrition: A balanced diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods can support healing.

 

Adopting a holistic approach to treatment that combines rest, therapy, support, and lifestyle adjustments can significantly improve outcomes for those suffering from elbow pain when lifting. It's essential to listen to your body and consult with healthcare professionals to tailor the treatment plan to your specific needs.

Prevention of Pain in Elbow When Lifting

Preventing elbow pain when lifting involves taking proactive measures to protect and strengthen the elbow joint:

  • Proper Lifting Techniques: Ensure you're lifting objects correctly, using your legs and keeping the weight close to your body to reduce strain on your elbows.
  • Strengthening Exercises: Regularly perform exercises that strengthen the muscles around your elbow and improve joint stability.
  • Stretching: Incorporating stretching into your routine can improve flexibility and reduce the risk of injuries.
  • Use Ergonomic Tools: If your job involves repetitive motions, ergonomic tools and equipment can help minimize strain.
  • Take Breaks: Regular breaks during activities that involve repetitive arm movements can prevent overuse injuries.

 

By understanding the causes and risk factors, recognizing the signs early, and taking appropriate steps towards prevention and treatment, you can manage elbow pain effectively and maintain a healthy, active lifestyle.

Key Takeaways

  • Understand the Causes: Recognizing the primary causes of elbow pain when lifting, including overuse, incorrect lifting techniques, and underlying health conditions, is crucial for effective management.
  • Identify the Type: Whether it's inside elbow pain, inner elbow pain, or pain when lifting light objects, understanding the type of pain can guide more targeted treatments.
  • Mitigate Risk Factors: Age, occupation, sports involvement, and physical condition are key risk factors. Awareness and preventive measures can reduce the likelihood of developing elbow pain.
  • Seek Appropriate Treatment: A combination of rest, ice, physical therapy, bracing, and medication forms the cornerstone of treating elbow pain. Severe cases may require injection therapy or surgery.
  • Prevention is Key: Employing proper lifting techniques, engaging in strengthening and flexibility exercises, using ergonomic tools, and taking regular breaks can prevent elbow pain.
  • Early Intervention: Recognizing symptoms early and taking appropriate measures can prevent complications and help maintain a healthy, active lifestyle.

 

If you want to read more about elbow pain, we have an article about Elbow pain when bending.

Frequently Asked Questions

What should I do if I experience pain in my elbow when lifting?

If you experience pain in your elbow when lifting, it's important to stop the activity causing the pain and apply ice to the affected area. Consider consulting a healthcare professional for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.

Why do I feel inside elbow pain when lifting, and how can I treat it?

Inside elbow pain when lifting, often called golfer's elbow, is usually caused by overuse of the muscles and tendons that flex your wrist and fingers. Treatment often involves rest, ice, physical therapy, and in some cases, bracing or splinting.

What causes inner elbow pain when lifting, and what are my treatment options?

Inner elbow pain when lifting, or tennis elbow, is typically the result of repetitive strain on the tendons on the outside of the elbow. Treatment strategies include rest, ice, physical therapy, bracing, and occasionally, corticosteroid injections for severe cases.

Can elbow pain occur even when lifting light objects, and what does it indicate?

Yes, experiencing elbow pain when lifting light objects can indicate an overuse injury or inflammation, suggesting that even minimal activities are stressing the elbow. It's a sign to reassess your activities and possibly seek medical advice to address the underlying cause.

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