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Get sore triceps? Here's why you might have triceps soreness after a workout

Learn the common causes of triceps soreness and then find out how to fix your sore triceps.
Written By  James Jackson
Last Updated on 2nd May 2022
A man with painful triceps soreness

If you have sore triceps for no reason or are experiencing tricep pain after a workout, then it could be due to muscle soreness, triceps tendonitis, or a triceps strain.

This evidence-based guide explains why you might have a sore tricep muscle and what you can do about it. We'll go through each common cause of triceps soreness so that you can get a clearer picture of your pain.

Of course, to get a proper diagnosis for your triceps pain, you should talk to your doctor so that they can perform a physical examination and assess you for a potential injury.

Related:

"I want to make sure that the pain is coming from the tricep—that it's not coming from your neck or shoulder—because quite often you can get pain that refers down into the arm, and there's a simple test [...] if you rub on this area [the back of your arm] and you find a tender spot, it's probably from the triceps."
Bob Schrupp
Physical Therapist

Why do I have sore triceps after my workout?

A man experiencing sore triceps after his workout

One of the most common reasons for having sore triceps after a workout is muscle fatigue. When you train your triceps intensely, metabolites get shuttled into the muscle, which causes your triceps to feel like they're burning. Some weight lifters refer to this sensation as the pump.

If you're experiencing tricep soreness a day or two after your workout, then you might have DOMS in your triceps, which stands for delayed onset muscle soreness. This pain occurs after a workout and can often manifest as an aching sensation when you move the muscle that you just trained. Delayed onset muscle soreness never occurs during a workout and is usually more intense when you perform a novel exercise and work out harder than usual.

On the other hand, if you have triceps pain after your workout, then you might have a triceps or elbow injury.  For example, if your elbows hurt during skull crushers, then you may eventually get triceps tendonitis or tennis elbow due to the high amounts of torque going through your elbow joint.

Why do I have sore triceps for no reason?

A man who has sore triceps for no reason

If you seemingly have sore triceps for no reason, then it could be because of an overuse injury. If you perform a repetitive task that involves your triceps to even a moderate degree (like painting a ceiling or a high wall), then you could injure your triceps muscle or triceps tendon.

On the other hand, you may think that you have sore triceps for no reason when, in fact, you injured your triceps in a freak accident. Examples of causes could include lifting heavy furniture, playing sports at a high intensity, or moving your arms too fast and then experiencing pain.

Indeed, if you're engrossed in a particular task or activity, then you might not even realize that you've hurt your triceps until later on.

If your triceps pain comes on suddenly, then it could be due to other serious problems. For example, pain in the left arm is a common symptom of a heart attack. [2] This is why it's so important to see your doctor and get a proper diagnosis or call the emergency services if your pain gets worse.

What are the causes of triceps soreness?

Triceps soreness can manifest itself for a variety of reasons, some of which are more serious than others.

Tricep DOMS

A man who has tricep doms

Tricep DOMS, also known as triceps delayed onset muscle soreness, is a common and completely normal side effect of intense exercise, especially resistance training. When you train a muscle with an unfamiliar exercise or in a novel way, you're stressing muscle fibers that aren't used to handling large amounts of tension.

This extra muscular exertion causes your muscles to ache the following day, and the pain or discomfort can often last a week. So if your tricep soreness persists for more than a week—and if the soreness doesn't decrease in that time—then it's likely that you have a more severe problem seeing as DOMS always gets less uncomfortable as time passes.

Staying hydrated, eating enough protein, getting enough sleep, and consuming a nutritious diet, are all simple and effective ways to recover from DOMS. Walking around and stretching, which are forms of active recovery, can also help to eliminate some of your triceps soreness by increasing your circulation.

Now, even if you follow the best recovery protocols in the world, you'll likely still have some muscle soreness, so don't think that it's bad to experience DOMS after a workout. Even the most elite athletes experience muscle soreness!

Tricep tendonitis

A man with tricep pain after his workout

If your triceps are sore and the soreness or pain isn't due to DOMS, then you might have triceps tendonitis, which is simply the inflammation of the triceps tendon.

The triceps tendon connects your triceps muscle, which resides on the back of your upper arm, to your elbow joint. Since the tricep functions to extend the elbow, common tricep tendonitis symptoms include pain when straightening your arm and general weakness in the affected area.

Common causes of triceps tendonitis are overuse injuries (e.g., performing the same exercise too often and without sufficient rest) and acute injuries due to excessive exertion (e.g., throwing a baseball as hard as you can or doing a max bench press). [3]

If tricep extensions hurt your elbows, then it could be due to tennis elbow and triceps tendonitis, so make sure to talk to your doctor so that they can give you an accurate diagnosis, as it can be hard to distinguish between elbow pain and triceps tendon pain.

Triceps strains and tears

A man holding his sore tricep muscle

If you have sore triceps, then it could be due to a tricep strain, which can occur due to both overuse and sudden injuries.

In more severe cases, you can actually tear your triceps partially or fully, which results in bruising, swelling, and pain that intensifies when the triceps or elbow region is palpated.

Tricep tears, which can occur near the elbow or further up on the triceps brachii, are a rare injury, but they can happen during forceful elbow extension, which is why they're more common among weight lifters than those in the general population.

Common symptoms of a triceps tear include a complete inability to straighten the arm, a sudden onset of pain, and intense pain near the triceps brachii attachment points (elbow and shoulder). [4]

How to fix a sore tricep muscle

Depending on the cause of your sore triceps muscle, you may be able to lessen or eliminate your pain with a combination of rest, ice, stretching, and strengthening exercises.

Rest

A man resting his sore tricep muscle

Whether you're experiencing triceps soreness due to DOMS or because of a more severe injury, the first thing that you should do is rest the affected area.

If you definitely just have tricep DOMS, then you can simply avoid training your triceps until the discomfort subsides (which should be within a week). Just be careful about training your back in the meantime because many pulling exercises work the triceps (If the lat pulldown hurts your triceps, try and pull with your back more than your arms).

On the other hand, if your sore triceps muscle is due to tendonitis, then you'll need to rest longer and ideally minimize activities that involve the triceps tendon to any significant degree.

Ice, compression, elevation

A man icing his arm because his triceps are sore

If you have acute triceps pain (and especially swelling or bruising), then icing the affected area as soon as possible after the onset of pain can speed up your recovery.

Ideally, you should ice your triceps for 10-20 minutes every 2-3 hours. When the affected area starts to feel numb rather than just cold, take the ice pack off your triceps. [5]

To make the sensation of the ice less intense, you can wrap the ice pack in a cloth.

In addition to icing your triceps, you can also wrap a light medical bandage around your triceps to increase blood flow to the injured area. If you feel pain closer to your elbow, then apply the bandage lower down on your upper arm.

Keeping your triceps elevated is part of the RICE protocol (rest, ice, compression, elevation) and can help prevent the injured area from swelling.

Stretching

A man stretching because he has tricep soreness

Stretching your triceps can help to decrease your tricep DOMS by increasing blood flow to the muscles. One of the most common and easy-to-perform triceps stretches is the overhead triceps stretch, where you put one arm down the middle of your back and then pull it towards the midline of your body with your spare arm.

If your triceps are sore because of an injury (i.e., anything other than muscle soreness), then you first need to rest. But after you've recovered, stretching your triceps, which is more manageable than lifting weights, can get them used to handling tension again.

Just make sure to start with short stretches so that you don't demand too much of your triceps too soon. Hold the stretch anywhere from 5-15 seconds.

Strengthening exercises

A man doing some exercise because his triceps are sore

Sometimes, tricep injuries can occur because your muscles are unable to handle a given amount of tension. So one way to prevent future injury-induced tricep soreness is to strengthen your triceps to make them more resilient and better able to handle tension.

Good exercises include tricep pushdowns, tricep kickbacks, and overhead extensions.

If you're not ready to lift weights yet, then you can also perform bodyweight elbow extensions against gravity. This is simply where you bend and then straighten your arm to get your triceps used to handling small amounts of tension.

A good progression from this is to do wall pushes whereby you put your hands on the wall, bend your elbows to lower your head/body towards the wall, and then extend your elbows to push yourself away. The closer you stand to the wall, the easier the exercise is because you'll be using a lower percentage of your body weight as resistance.

The verdict on sore triceps

A man pointing to his arm because he has doms in his triceps
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As explained throughout this article, you can have sore triceps for many different reasons, including triceps tendonitis, muscular soreness, and tricep tears. Common causes for these injuries include intense weight training, repetitive movements involving the triceps, and forceful elbow extension.

Whether your triceps soreness is due to DOMS or because of an injury, you should always rest the muscle before embarking on any rehabilitation so that it gets a proper chance to recover.

And as always, you should talk to your doctor if the pain persists so that you can get an accurate diagnosis for your sore triceps muscle.

References

  1. Bob & Brad. (2014, May 6). Absolute Best Treatment For Tricep Pain Strain [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nwLsYWNwaQg
  2. Wexler, A. (2019, July 3). Why do I have a pain in my left arm? MedicalNewsToday. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/317652
  3. Seladi-Schulman, J., PhD. (2019, April 22). How to Treat Triceps Tendonitis. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/sports-injuries/tricep-tendonitis
  4. Walden, M. (2022, March 14). Triceps Strain. Sportsinjuryclinic.Net. https://www.sportsinjuryclinic.net/sport-injuries/elbow-pain/triceps-strain
  5. Inverarity, L. (2021, September 9). Learn How Long You Should Be Icing an Injury to Reduce Inflammation. Verywell Health. https://www.verywellhealth.com/how-long-should-you-ice-an-injury-2696108
James Jackson
James Jackson is a personal trainer who uses his expertise in strength and conditioning to create helpful workout tutorials that show fitness enthusiasts how to build muscle while staying safe in the gym. He draws on the latest sports science data as well as tried and tested training techniques to get the best results for his clients without them having to live in the gym.
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