Elbow Pain When Lifting Weights: Tennis Elbow vs Golfer’s Elbow

Don’t let the laymen’s terms fool you – you don’t have to be a tennis player or a golfer to suffer from tennis elbow or golfer’s elbow. In fact, many athletes, workout enthusiasts and weight lifting newcomers experience elbow pain from these conditions due to incorrect form while lifting weights. 

Before we get into possible reasons why your elbow hurts during or after your strength training, it’s important to understand the basic anatomy of the elbow. 

Elbow Anatomy Overview

Elbow Anatomy

The elbow is made up of three bones – the radius and ulna (forearm bones) and the humerus (upper arm bone) – as well as muscles, ligaments and tendons that hold the joint together. There are two bony bumps at the bottom of the humerus called epicondyles that connect the muscles and tendons in the forearm to the elbow. The bump on the outside of the elbow is called the lateral epicondyle and the bump on the inside of the elbow is the medial epicondyle.

The elbow allows for four basic functions: flexion, extension, supination and pronation. Tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow typically involve stress during flexion and extension of the elbow and wrist, which occur in various strength training exercises.

What causes elbow pain when lifting weights?

While chest, triceps and shoulder exercises can all put pressure on the elbow, the most common cause of elbow pain during and after lifting is improper bicep curls. If you’re experiencing inner elbow pain or outside elbow pain, it could be related to one or more common mistakes in your bicep curl form. If your pain doesn’t subside after fixing your form, it’s important to know when to see a doctor for your elbow injury.

Four Common Reasons for Elbow Pain from Bicep Curls

1. You’re gripping the bar or dumbbell too tight. 

Gripping the bar or dumbbell too tight activates the flexor tendon that allows your wrist to bend or curl forward. Even if your wrist maintains a neutral position throughout the curl, activating the flexor tendon in this way can lead to inner elbow pain and golfer’s elbow

2. You’re not keeping your wrist in a strong, neutral position throughout the curl.

Similar to gipping the bar or dumbbell too tight, allowing your wrists to roll forward will activate the flexor tendon and can lead to inner elbow pain. 

On the flip side, if you extend/bend your wrists backward during a curl, the weight will activate the extension tendons in your wrists that are attached to the outer side of your elbow, which can cause outside elbow pain and tennis elbow

3. You’re using too much weight.

While this may seem obvious, it’s a bit more nuanced than you may think. Too much weight for your bicep curl may have nothing to do with your bicep strength – and everything to do with your grip and forearm strength. 

As mentioned above, gripping too tightly or extending or flexing your wrist during a bicep curl can lead to inner and outside elbow pain. If your lack of grip strength causes you to over-grip the bar or dumbbells, or if your inadequate forearm strength causes a flexion or extension of the wrist, the weight is probably too heavy for you to curl while maintaining proper form. Poor form can lead to elbow pain and injury.

4. You’re not varying your bicep curl workout. 

According to the International Sports Sciences Association (the leading sports science teaching institution for personal trainers, strength training specialists, yoga instructors and group exercise instructors), there are 12 different variations of bicep curls

Why is this important? Because repetition leads to overuse injuries. If you always do the same one or two types of bicep curls, your arms and elbows are repetitively stressed by the same forces. This can lead to tennis elbow and/or golfer’s elbow. To avoid repetitive stress injuries, it’s important to vary your strength training exercises.

What is Tennis Elbow?

Tennis elbow, also known as lateral epicondylitis, often involves the muscle called the Extensor Carpi Radialis Brevis (ECRB). This muscle in the forearm is responsible for the extension of the wrists and fingers. The extensors (forearm tendons) attach this muscle and other muscles to bone. 

When the ECRB is weakened from overuse, microscopic tears in the extensor can form where it attaches to the lateral epicondyle (the outer bump on the elbow). This causes pain and inflammation, AKA tennis elbow. 

What is Golfer’s Elbow?

Golfer’s elbow, also known as medial epicondylitis, is similar to tennis elbow but occurs on the opposite side of the elbow. A repetitive stress injury caused by overuse, golfer’s elbow occurs from damage to the muscles and tendons that connect to the medial epicondyle (the inner bump on the elbow), which can cause severe inner elbow pain.

Tennis Elbow and Golfer’s Elbow Treatments

Unlike a Tommy John injury or traumatic injuries that require elbow replacement surgery, tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow typically only require non-surgical treatments and physical therapy. Ice, rest, anti-inflammatory medications and changes to repetitive stress movements are usually enough to treat tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow.

If, however, your elbow pain does not subside in 6 to 12 months with rest and therapy, you should consult your orthopedic elbow specialist for steroidal or surgical options. While tennis elbow surgery and golfer’s elbow surgery are not common, severe injuries may require arthroscopic elbow surgery.

If you are experiencing elbow pain and have questions for our orthopedic specialist, please contact us. We’re happy to assist you in any way we can or schedule a consultation with our hand, elbow and wrist specialist


Excellent explanation. I totally got it. Thank you!


It was a amazing and knowledgeable article which tells a person a lot about the elbow pain.Thanks a lot sir 😍😍😍😍


Im having pain in golfers elbow muscles..and it is difficult to do workout..mainly biceps..what treatment shud i take..


    If you are having elbow pain, I would recommend seeing an orthopedic specialist to help you determine the best course of treatment.


Hello – If you have tennis ball elbow pain, how long do you have to stay away from weight lifting again…?

I had it after i went back to gym (after a long break)… it started like 3 days back… today it became like sore muscle pain, much better…

does it mean i can go to gym tomorrow and start back gradually?


    Hi Ahmad,
    I would let your symptoms be your guide when getting back to exercises in the gym. Try and avoid exercises that require repetitive wrist extension (bending wrist up with palm facing down) and pronation (rotating your forearm so your palm faces down) to avoid further aggravation.


Hello I was working biceps and now the day after I can’t extend my elbows all the way. I’m not quite sure what to do.


    Hi Quinton,
    I would suggest rest and ice for a week. Ice 15 minutes on and 15 minutes off. After that you could start to slowly work in bicep exercises again, gently increasing intensity while carefully listening to your body for guidance on what you should and shouldn’t do. If the issue persists or pain increases, you should see a Sports Medicine specialist. We have two excellent Sports Medicine doctors at our office that would be happy to help with your bicep and elbow pain.


I have medial elbow pain while lifting weights, can we continue exercise….


    Hi Prashant,
    It is possible that you have injured yourself, so continuing to lift weights is not advisable. The best course of action would be to give your elbow 2 weeks of ice and rest, that means no weight lifting and icing the elbow for 15 minutes every day. You may be able to get away with doing very light weights or resistance type workouts, but if you start to feel pain you should discontinue any type of weight or resistance training during your rest period. If your pain does not go away or worsens after your 2 weeks of rest, you should see a doctor to determine if you have an injury. A sports medicine doctor or orthopedic specialist would be able to help diagnose and treat your issue effectively so you can get back to your normal exercise routine as quickly as possible. Hope this helps! Best of luck with your elbow.


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