The armpit, or axilla, consists of a network of muscles under the arm, which work in conjunction with the chest muscles, including the pectoralis major, the primary muscle targeted when performing pushups. Pushups primarily engage your chest muscles but also use the armpit muscles to a lesser degree as stabilizers. If you experience pain in your armpit, consult with your health care provider or sports physiologist before continuing your exercise program.
When performing pushups, varying degrees of muscle strain can occur, causing pain in the underarm area. Overuse injuries, the most common type of sports injury, occur when the area undergoes micro-trauma, resulting in muscle pain, such as in the case of armpit pain when performing pushups, according to the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine. Causes of overuse injuries include over-acceleration of the intensity, frequency or duration of the exercise, improper technique and insufficient flexibility, reports the AOSSM.
What to Do
Common treatment protocols for muscle injures include rest, ice, compression and elevation. Avoid over-straining the area until the muscle fully heals, use ice packs and try anti-inflammatory medicines to reduce swelling and inflammation, recommends the University of Maryland Medical Center.
Prevent overuse injuries by learning proper pushup techniques and progressing with your fitness program at a reasonable rate. You can prevent most overuse injuries using a combination of proper exercise form and the 10 percent rule, which states that you shouldn’t increase your fitness activity level more than 10 percent a week, according to the AOSSM. Incorporate flexibility training into your fitness regimen to properly stretch the surrounding muscles to lessen your changes of overuse injury.
Try a variety of pushups and incorporate versions that do not cause excessive strain on your underarm area. Modify classic pushups by performing them on your knees, or try incline or decline pushups. Changing the positioning of your hands also affects how the exercise impacts your axilla. When performing pushups, you lift the equivalent of 60 percent of your body weight, according to bodybuilding competitor and author Lee Hayward. If bodyweight pushups cause too much strain on the area, try gradually increasing your strength by performing chest presses with dumbbells.
Pushups, a compound exercise, offer unique benefits that qualify them as a leading strength training exercise. They work a variety of upper body muscles including the chest, shoulders, triceps and core area. Other benefits include improved upper body endurance, circulation, energy levels and cardiovascular health, according to the "International Business Times." After your underarm muscles fully recuperate and you've ensured proper form, consider continuing the inclusion of pushups in your fitness regimen to increase strength and build lean muscle tissue.