Bench press is an exercise that is performed to strengthen the chest, shoulders and arm muscles but it can also cause elbow pain or other related injuries over time. Always bear in mind that the pain can be due to incorrect form, repetitive and excessive use or lifting too much weight. The self-care measures can be used for dealing with minor aches but if the pain is persistent for 3 days or accompanied by redness and swelling, it is best to seek medical care.
Epicondylitis involves inflammation of the tendons that connect the elbow to the forearm muscles. Golfer’s elbow or medial epicondylitis is experienced on the interior part of the elbow while tennis elbow or lateral epicondylitis affects the exterior region of the elbow.
The tendons involved are required for holding and flexing of the wrist. Proper strengthening of these forearm muscles can help prevent epicondylitis from developing while executing bench presses.
The triceps muscle is comprised of 3 muscles on the upper rear side of the arm. The muscles are significantly strained while performing a bench press and the soft tissues of the tendon that connects the triceps muscle at the back part of the elbow bone can deteriorate and even become inflamed.
For mild cases, the pain can be felt as a stiff, dull ache that becomes worse after exercise. In severe cases, the pain can become worse during activity and there might be swelling at the rear part of the elbow. In addition, there is also weakness in the elbow joint while performing the bench press.
Other possible causes
The inflammation and deterioration of other parts of the elbow joint can also trigger pain. Various issues include osteoarthritis, bursitis and muscle strain.
- Bursitis involves inflammation of the bursa which is a cushion filled with fluid under the skin.
- Elbow strain can occur if the muscles are overly stretched and tears.
- Osteoarthritis involves deterioration of the bones.
In case the pain is minimal, the affected elbow must be allowed to rest for at least 2-3 days. In case the pain is intense or there is swelling involved, utilize the RICE technique which involves the following:
- Rest the affected elbow for at least 2 days
- Apply an ice pack for 20 minutes at a time every hour on the initial day
- Compress the affected elbow with a bandage or wrap using a towel around it
- Elevate the elbow above the level of the heart.
It is recommended to wait for 3 weeks before engaging in bench pressing. If the pain is intense, redness or there is persistent pain for 3 days or more, it is best to consult a doctor.
Correct technique and staying within the limits can help prevent injuries during bench press. The jerking motions or excess weight can damage the ligaments and tendons of the elbow over time which results to elbow pain.
When performing bench press, always keep the back flat on the bench and feet flat on the floor. The eyes must be directly below the bar and pull the shoulders down and back to make full contact with the bench.
The bar must be pressed upward while exhaling and keep the buttocks, head, shoulders and feet in contact with the bench the whole time. Always avoid bouncing the bar off the chest and make sure that a spotter is around while lifting in case of fatigue as well as avoid injury.