The bench press is an exercise performed to strengthen the muscles of the chest, arms and shoulders. It can also lead to injury or pain over time. The pain can be the result of improper form, excessive and repetitive use or lifting too much weight. Self-care measures can be taken to treat minor aches, but if the pain does not go away after three days or is accompanied by swelling and redness, seek medical attention.
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The triceps muscle is actually three muscles on the upper backside of the arm. The triceps muscles are heavily strained when performing a bench press, and the soft tissue of the tendon that connects the triceps muscle to the back of the elbow bone can degenerate and get inflamed. In a milder case, the pain may be felt as a dull, stiff ache that gets worse after exercise. In more severe cases, the pain will get worse with activity and there may be swelling at the back of the elbow. You may also feel weakness in the elbow when doing a bench press.
Epicondylitis is the inflammation of the tendons that connect the elbow to the muscles of the forearm. Medial epicondylitis, or golfer's elbow, is felt on the inner part of the elbow. Lateral epicondyltis, or tennis elbow, is felt on the outer elbow. The tendons involved are responsible for gripping and for flexing or pronation of the wrist. Strengthening the muscles of forearm may help prevent epicondylitis when doing bench presses.
Inflammation and degeneration of other parts of the elbow can also cause pain. Several common problems include bursitis, osteoarthritis and strain of the muscles of the elbow. Bursitis is the inflammation of the bursa, the fluid-filled cushion beneath the skin. Osteoarthritis is caused by degeneration of the bones. While not as common as other muscle strains, elbow strain can occur if the muscles gets stretched and tears. Strain will typically be accompanied by swelling and bruising, as will bursitis. Swelling may accompany osteoarthritis, but pain is the main symptom.
If the pain is minor, rest the elbow for at least two to three days. If the pain is more severe or there is swelling, use the RICE protocol of rest, ice, compression and elevation. Rest the elbow for at least two days, icing it for 20 minutes at a time every hour on the first day. Compress the elbow using a bandage or by wrapping a towel around it. Keep the elbow elevated above the heart. You should wait three weeks before doing any more bench presses, according to the National Institutes of Health website MedlinePlus. If the pain is severe, there is redness of the joint or the pain does not go away after three days, seek medical attention.
Proper technique and staying within your limits can help prevent injury. Jerking movements or excessive weight can damage the tendons and ligaments of the elbow over time. When performing a bench press, keep your back flat on the bench and your feet flat on the floor. Your eyes should be directly below the bar. Pull your shoulders down and back to make complete contact with the bench. Grab the barbell, keeping your hands shoulder-width apart. Slowly lower the bar while inhaling, keeping your forearms perpendicular to the floor, and gently let the bar touch your chest. Press the bar upward while exhaling. Keep your buttocks, head, shoulders and feet in contact with the bench the entire time. Avoid bouncing the bar off your chest. Always use a spotter to assist when lifting in case of fatigue and to avoid injury. Consult with a certified personal trainer to get more detailed instructions that are specifically suited to you.