Pushups Causing Pain

When trying to improve your health on a small budget, pushups can become a quick way to work the arms, shoulders and chest without having to invest in exercise equipment or a pricey gym membership. However, like any type of strength training exercise, there is some risk that pushups can cause pain to the body, especially if performed incorrectly.

A man is doing elevated pushups. (Image: golero/iStock/Getty Images)

Causes of Pain

Pain during or after pushups can occur for several reasons, ranging from natural muscle building to strains or injury. A common cause of pain is delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS, which can cause pain hours or even days after a workout due to unconditioned muscles. Another common area of pain associated with pushups is the wrists, where the weight of your body on your bent wrists can cause strains, resulting in pain and inflammation. Pain can also develop if you overwork the muscles, tendons and ligaments of the arms, shoulders and chest by trying to perform more pushups than your body can handle. In some cases, this can result in serious injury.


When experiencing muscle pain after a session of pushups, health-care professionals often recommend the RICE method to reduce swelling and help treat the pain. The RICE method consists of rest, icing, compression and elevation. First, rest the area by not performing pushups or other strength training exercises that work the affected muscle until the pain begins to subside. Second, ice the area to help reduce inflammation. Third place or wrap a compression bandage on the affected area. Finally, elevate the area above the heart, if possible, to help move blood away from the area of inflammation. Over-the-counter pain medications may also be helpful in dulling the pain as needed.


There are several ways to help prevent or minimize the pain that can develop from doing pushups. One way is to start with very few reps and gradually work your way up to higher reps. Your body will tell you when enough is enough. This cautious approach allows your body to develop the muscle strength necessary to perform a greater number of pushups in each session. You can also perform simplified knee or wall pushups until you develop the muscle strength for traditional pushups. Warming the muscles up through other activities, such as arm circles or stretching, before performing pushups may also help prevent muscle pain by making the muscle and other connective tissue more pliable and less prone to injury.

Devices to Help

There are several devices on the market which can help reduce possible pain from pushups, especially in the wrists. If you regularly experience wrist pain during or after the exercise, consider performing elevated pushups by grasping a pair of dumbbells instead of placing the palms flat on the floor. Commercial devices have also been designed to help reduce pressure on the wrists, but, according to the American Council on Exercise, these devices may cause instability, which can lead to problems for those with shoulder weakness or injuries.

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