Elbow Pain – Part 1

Do you suffer from elbow pain? If you do, you are not alone.


Elbow tendonitis has become a fairly common overuse injury in the CrossFit world.


What exactly is “tendonitis”? The suffix “itis” means inflammation, meaning the surrounding tendons of the elbow are inflamed. Yes, inflammation is a normal process in our bodies, but it should be a fast and direct process, not an extended/chronic process.


The elbow is made up of 3 bones: the humerus (upper arm), radius (lower, thumb side) and ulna (lower, pinky side). Surrounding the joint are ligaments and tendons; ligaments connect bone to bone while tendons connect the muscle to the bone. Tendons have a poor blood flow, which in turn affects healing and an inflammatory response that can become chronic.


Do I have tendonitis? The following are symptoms/signs of tendonitis, but to have a true diagnosis you should see a healthcare provider.

  • Recurring pain on the outside of your upper forearm (thumb side)
  • Pain felt down the arm towards the wrist
  • Pain when lifting or bending the arm
  • Pain when twisting the forearm


How does this happen? Unfortunately, our tendons aren’t as resilient as our muscles or ligaments. So while we crank out squats, push-ups or pull-ups, our body is trying to keep up with the repair phase. However, our tendons lag behind the others and that’s why tendon pain can last so long. But what am I doing in CrossFit to cause this?

  • How many times have you heard coach say, “You’re pulling too early in your clean/snatch?” If you are pulling too early, you are taking the bulk of the lifting off your legs and putting extra strain on your arms. Which is stronger, your legs or your arms?
  • If you use your elbows instead of your shoulder during a rapid descent (examples: pull-up or muscle-up), that will cause more strain in the joint of your elbow.
  • The exact opposite, descending too slowly from a pull-up or muscle-up, can cause too much strain on the elbow.
  • Attempting a movement you are not ready for. Doing a movement that is at a higher level of difficulty than what your body is ready for can be detrimental to your elbow and training. I know this pill can be hard to swallow, but what is more important: a healthy training session or checking the Rx box?
  • If you are not stabilizing at your core, your shoulder blade, shoulder joint, or you are too tight in one muscle versus the opposing muscle, this can also cause pain at the elbow.


If you sustain an injury while training, you will potentially cause a set back in your progress or dramatically slow your progress. Train for your ability, and before you know it you will be getting that movement that seemed out of reach.


Listen to your body. If a movement doesn’t feel right, stop, talk to your coach, and come up with a solution. It is better to fix a problem before it turns into injury than to deal with an injury later on.

Start here

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