Triceps tendonitis is characterized by pain at the back of the elbow, caused by damage to the triceps tendon. The triceps muscle is anchored on the scapula, or shoulder blade, and the upper arm. It connects to the ulna, a bone in the forearm, by means of the triceps tendon. The triceps muscle straightens the elbow joint when it tightens, working opposite to the biceps muscles which bends the elbow when it tightens.
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The triceps tendon can be injured by prolonged repetitive movements that strain the triceps muscle and tendon. For instance, straightening the elbow against resistance, as you do when you perform pushups, can strain the triceps. So can excessive force, as in using a hammer forcefully or heavy weightlifting. Pain in the triceps tendon can also be due to trauma.
During the acute phase when the injury is new, rest and do not perform any activity or exercise that causes pain. Apply an ice pack, covered in a towel, to the painful area for 20 minutes several times a day. You may find that compression with a stretch bandage may help. As the pain improves, you can begin a gradual program of stretching and strengthening the triceps.
Raise the affected arm over your head and drop your hand behind your neck. Use your other hand to gently push your elbow backwards until you feel a stretch in the outside of your arm. Hold the stretch for 15 seconds and then relax. Repeat up to four times, as long as the stretch doesn't hurt.
Bring your injured arm across your chest under your chin. Use your other hand to press the arm toward the chest, until you feel a stretch in your triceps muscle. Hold the stretch for 15 seconds and then relax. Repeat up to ten times as long as the exercise doesn't hurt.
Strengthening the Triceps
With your injured elbow close to your side, hold your lower arm in front of you, making a fist. Use your other hand to hold your fist. Press down with the fist into your other hand, tightening the back of your arm. Hold for five seconds and repeat up to ten times, as long as you can do it without pain.
Extend your arms behind you, with your palms up. Keep your arms straight and press them up to the ceiling as far as you can without pain. Hold for 15 seconds and then relax. Repeat up to 10 times, as long as the exercise doesn't hurt.