After a tough day at the gym, you may find you're not able to fully extend your arms because they're tight after the workout. Muscle exhaustion and soreness are normal after a challenging weightlifting workout, but the symptoms should resolve within a couple of days with at-home care.
Lifting weights that are too heavy for your fitness level or lifting with improper form may lead to injury. If pain and lack of joint mobility continue, it may be the sign of a more serious condition or injury.
If you can't straighten your arms after a workout, it may be the result of normal muscle soreness from a tough session. If the pain is severe, doesn't improve or you have swelling in your joint, consult your doctor as it may be a more serious condition such as a tendon injury or rhabdomyolysis.
Arms Tight After a Workout
Delayed-onset muscle soreness, or DOMS, is the normal muscle soreness you experience after a hard workout, especially if you're introducing new exercises or increasing the intensity of your training. While the specific cause of DOMS is unproven, research suggests that it's caused by the microtears to the muscle fibers that happens when you stress your muscles.
Treating Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness
The severity of post-exercise muscle soreness depends on weightlifting intensity and fitness level. Muscle soreness usually starts the day after your workout and resolves within a few days. If the soreness is severe enough, you may find you can't extend your arm after the workout.
During your recovery, do not perform strenuous weightlifting workouts, but be sure to keep moving. Gentle exercise and stretching can help reduce discomfort and speed up your recovery. Light massage, using a foam roller and applying cold to the sore muscles may also help.
Read more: How to Ease Muscle Soreness After a Workout
Tendon Inflammation and Injury
Golfer's elbow is one common tendon and muscle injury that may be caused by improper weightlifting technique. Symptoms include pain on the inside of your elbow, stiffness, numbness and weakness in the wrist and hands.
Consult your doctor if you think you have golfer's elbow or any other tendon inflammation or injury. Treatment options include pain medications, rest and ice. Wearing an elbow brace may help reduce further strain on the elbow.
Read more: Elbow Tendonitis Stretches
Serious Medical Conditions
If you work out too hard or have other underlying issues, such as low phosphate levels, injuries or dehydration, you may experience a severe condition called rhabdomyolysis. This condition occurs when the muscle fibers break down and enter the blood stream, leading to kidney damage.
In addition to muscle soreness and joint pain, you may experience dark urine, decreased urination and fatigue. Consult your doctor immediately if you experience these symptoms.
Preventing Muscle Pain and Injury
Lifting weights with improper form is likely to lead to injury. Consider working with a personal trainer to learn correct movements and establish a workout routine appropriate for your fitness level. Increase intensity and weight slowly and be sure to warm up and cool down after your workout to prevent extreme soreness and injury.
Consult your health care provider before starting any exercise or weightlifting program.
When to See a Doctor
Although muscle soreness is normal, other serious conditions and injuries may also cause you to be unable to straighten your arm after lifting weights. Consult your doctor if you experience symptoms such as:
- Pain or swelling in the joints
- Pain that begins suddenly during exercise
- Muscle soreness that doesn't begin to improve after 48 hours
- Dark urine or decreased urination