If you are a gym rat like me, you have your goto exercises for each body part.
They have stood the test of time for building thickness and definition.
And on back day, you always perform pull ups.
But what if you’ve recently noticed some elbow pain when doing pull ups – is this something you should worry about?
Is it something that will go away over time?
Before we get straight into the top 5 causes of your elbow discomfort …
Let’s take a quick look at the perfect form and technique for doing a pull-up.
Hopefully your form is exactly like this!
There are 2 variations of this exercise.
The first is with your palms facing you, shoulder width apart usually while maintaining a tight grip on the bar.
This is often referred to as a chin up.
The second is with your palms facing away and using a wide grip.
Be sure to check out my post on how to stop elbow pain when weight lifting, there are loads of “golden nuggets” in there.
Let’s address the close grip(chin-up) movement first.
Starting position for perfect technique and form is where you are hanging from the bar with palms facing you, shoulder width apart.
In a slow controlled movement, engage your core and biceps and push your elbows downwards towards the floor.
The goal is pull your chin above the bar for the perfect repetition.
Once your chin has passed the bar, pause for a second and lower yourself back down until your arms are fully straight and extended.
Repeat for your desired repetition count.
Now we don’t stop there.
Here are some great tips and tricks from breakingmuscle.com on how to avoid your pain.
If you are like most people in the gym doing back exercises, you almost always perform pull ups.
Am I right?
This exercise is usually performed on a power rack or even on the straight bar of a smith machine(set at the highest hook).
Here is how to perform the perfect pull-up for that super v-shaped and thick back:
- Grip the bar with a wide grip – so go past shoulder width.
- Your palms should be facing away with a super tight grip.
- Now you need to hang with your feet off the ground. Some people like to bend their knees so their calves are tucked under their buttocks.
- Now you should be hanging with your arms extended.
- Next pull yourself up by engaging your core, back, shoulder and arm muscles.
- Ensure your chin passed over the top of the bar for the perfect repetition.
- Once you start to fatigue, keep going and do half repetitions as a burn out.
- Simply repeat for your desired number of repetitions.
But what if you can’t do one single repetition?
There is always negatives.
Grab a bench or chair and assume the top position.
Once you’ve secured a tight grip and your chin is above the bar, bring your feet up off the chair and lower yourself from the bar until your arms are extended.
This is a negative repetition.
It will help you build up strength so you can do this exercise safely and properly.
Let’s get to main reason why you are here!
There are 5 possible causes of your elbow pain and discomfort when performing this exercise.
Because this movement is multi joint AND you are going against gravity,
There is extreme strain and pressure on your joints.
Just like anything, over time too much of a good thing can cause injury.
5 possible causes of your elbow pain can be:
One. Pinched Ulnar Nerve
Besides the pain in your elbow, do you sometimes experience some numbness or tingling from your elbow down to your hand/fingers?
If this sounds like you, then there is good chance your have a condition commonly referred to as ulnar nerve entrapment.
Your ulnar nerve runs from the base of your skull, down your neck, into your arm.
It crosses on the inside of your elbow as it continues down the inside of your forearm.
Any pressure on it, at any point along this pathway can result in elbow pain.
And yes performing pull ups can be strenuous enough to cause this nerve to pinch resulting in elbow discomfort.
Although more commonly referred to as elbow tendonitis, you can suffer from it at two different locations at your elbow.
The inside and the outside of your elbow.
But here’s the thing:
Regardless of whether it’s your inner or outer elbow, tendonitis is caused by overtraining and repetitive movements.
It is not a condition that you all of sudden wake up one morning and you have it.
It takes time.
As mentioned earlier, besides the obvious of pulling your own body weight when doing this exercsise, you are also fighting against gravity.
This can add tens of pounds or kilos to your own bodyweight.
The tendons which attach at your elbow (extensor and flexor tendons) are under extreme load each time you perform a repetition.
As each rep goes by and you strain and scream even more, the potential for injury to these tendons increases.
Where so many people go wrong is by continuing with their set even though they start to experience the slightest of elbow pain and discomfort.
And to make matters worse …
Tendons do not build up and strengthen as quickly as muscles.
The reason for this is due to the fact that tendons are not always flush with blood – which is important for building strength.
So your back muscles may be getting stronger but your elbow tendons sadly remain the same.
Making them susceptible to injury.
For short term pain relief, you can use anti-inflammatory medication but remember this only provides symptom relief and will not permanently solve your pain.
Although not as “popular” as the first two, elbow bursitis is a real condition that can cause a world of hurt at your elbow.
Throughout your body you have what are called bursa sacs.
They mainly reside in between your joints.
They are filled with a white substance and primary purpose is to absorb shock and blunt force trauma to your joints.
When your elbow receive a sharp blow, your bursa sac can become inflamed and even infected.
You will know if you have this condition because the back of your elbow will be red in colour, swollen, tender to the touch and feel as if someone is holding a match to your skin.
Pull ups can cause this but only in rare instances.
Treatment for this can include ice, anti-inflammatory medication and in extreme cases – your Doctor may decide to drain the sac using a needle – ouch!
As we age, arthritis can “creek” up on you.(I couldn’t resist!)
But in all seriousness, it is very frustrating and ever so painful.
If you are under the age of 35, I would say there is a low chance that you have elbow arthritis which has been caused by doing pull-ups.
We know that arthritis is a degenerative joint condition which mainly affects individuals over the age of 60 and especially in those who are overweight and sedentary.
Five. Tennis elbow
And finally – tennis elbow.
If I was a betting man, which I am not(even in Las Vegas), this is the condition that you are most likely to have developed from doing this exercise.
This condition and term is often interchanged with elbow tendonitis.
So how has this developed in your elbow by doing this pull up exercise?
Don’t forget …
Your body weight, combined with gravity and the tight grip you need to maintain and keep on the bar causes extreme load on your forearm extensor tendon.
This tendon attaches on the outside of your elbow.
Is your elbow pain primarily on the outer part of your elbow?
Does this pain increase even more when you straighten your arm or make a fist?
What about if you reach to open a door or try to twist the lid off a jar of jam or pickles?
If you can answer yes to any of the above questions, I guarantee that you are suffering from tennis elbow.
So what can you do about it?
The first thing I recommend is to stop doing this exercise.
There are other exercises you can do at the gym that target your back but don’t require this degree of grip strength.
Secondly, if you really want to recover quickly from your injury and NOT take time off from the gym …
There are 5 easy-to-follow steps that you can implement right now to help accelerate your recovery from tennis elbow and quickly dissolve your elbow pain.
And the best part …
You don’t need any special equipment or gadgets to get started.
Heck – you can do them right now, sitting in the chair or couch you are reading this post from.
Click right here to get all 5 of these steps in action!