What Is Triceps Tendonitis & How Can It Be Tested?
In addition to being uncomfortable, pain in the back of your elbow can make it difficult to perform everyday tasks. People with this issue are often desperate to figure out the problem so they can receive the appropriate treatment. One likely possibility is triceps tendonitis, a condition that results from repeated hyperextension of the arm. Here at The Hand and Wrist Institute, we’ll teach you more about this condition and its causes. We’ll also discuss how a doctor tests for triceps tendonitis and which treatments can help relieve the pain.
What Is Triceps Tendonitis?
Triceps tendonitis is a condition in which the tricep tendon experiences injury or inflammation. This tendon is a tough, flexible tissue that connects the muscle on the back of your upper arm to the elbow bone. Your tricep tendon experiences frequent use as you activate it to straighten your arm, but repeated strain can create microtears in the tissue. When these microtears continue to occur faster than your body can heal them, the tricep tendon can develop larger tears. The sheath on the outside of the tendon might also thicken or turn dark red.
Causes of Triceps Tendonitis
Triceps tendonitis is also known as weightlifter’s elbow, a nickname that provides insight into the condition’s causes. Weightlifters might develop triceps tendonitis because they repeatedly extend their tricep tendons, but they’re not the only ones who can develop the condition. Other repetitive activities that might irritate the tissue include hammering, throwing a baseball, doing pushups, and boxing.
While triceps tendonitis tends to develop more gradually because of overuse, a case may onset suddenly following trauma. You might fall onto your outstretched arm or have your arm experience a sudden change in position. For instance, a patient might tear their tricep tendon if the weights they’re lifting suddenly pull on their arm. If you experience sudden pain following this type of event, it’s important to cease exercise to avoid making the problem worse.
Some people might be more likely to develop triceps tendonitis than others. Common risk factors include:
- Not stretching properly before exercising or playing sports.
- Using anabolic steroids.
- Having muscle weakness.
- Not allocating enough recovery time between workouts.
- Using poor form while doing activities like throwing a baseball or lifting weights.
- Experiencing prior injuries in your arm.
- Having a history of diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, or infection.
- Being overweight.
Symptoms of Triceps Tendonitis
One of the most common symptoms of triceps tendonitis is pain in the back of the elbow. Many patients describe the pain as achy, but it can intensify to a sharp or shooting sensation when you extend your arm. This area of your elbow might also be tender to the touch or exhibit signs of swelling, bulging, or redness. Other symptoms of triceps tendonitis include achiness in the shoulder or triceps and snapping sounds or sensations in the shoulder or elbow.
If you have a severe case of triceps tendonitis following an acute injury, you’ll likely experience excruciating pain and excessive swelling. You might hear an intense popping sound and be unable to continue the exercises you were doing.
How Doctors Test for Triceps Tendonitis
While the description of symptoms above can help you determine whether you have triceps tendonitis, you’ll want to see an orthopedic doctor or surgeon to get an accurate diagnosis. Consider finding a practice that specializes in sports injuries if you’re experiencing pain as a result of an active lifestyle.
When you meet with an orthopedic doctor, they’ll start by asking you about your symptoms. Prepare yourself to answer questions about what type of pain you’re experiencing, when it started, and what kind of activities make the pain worse. Your doctor might also ask you what at-home treatments you’ve tried and whether they’ve provided any relief.
During a physical exam, your doctor might press on the area where your tricep tendon connects your tricep muscle to your elbow. Hardness, swelling, and redness might be indicators of the condition. Your doctor may ask you to move your arm to assess your range of motion. You might also perform basic shoulder or elbow exercises so the doctor can evaluate the strength of your triceps, shoulder, and elbows. In some cases, your doctor might use resisted flexion to test how resistance affects your ability to straighten your elbow.
If you exhibit more severe symptoms or don’t respond to conservative treatments, medical imaging might be necessary. Tests like X-rays, ultrasounds, MRIs, and CT scans can assess the condition’s severity. Regardless, it’s important to get a diagnosis from a doctor. Orthopedic specialists can rule out other causes and use their findings to prescribe the appropriate treatments.
Nonsurgical Treatment Options for Triceps Tendonitis
Some patients rely on nonsurgical treatment options to find relief from mild triceps tendonitis. Cases may resolve on their own if you implement the RICE method (rest, ice, compression, and elevation). You can reduce inflammation by taking over-the-counter medication like ibuprofen, aspirin, or naproxen sodium. Additionally, a doctor may prescribe corticosteroid or platelet-rich plasma injections. Physical therapy can also help relieve pain and strengthen your muscles.
Surgical Treatment Options for Triceps Tendonitis
If conservative methods don’t provide relief, surgical treatment might be necessary. Doctors usually reserve surgery for cases in which the tricep tendon has a partial or complete tear. One type of surgery is a tricep tendon repair, which involves the surgeon reattaching the damaged tissue to the olecranon area of your elbow. In other cases, the surgeon might take a portion of a tendon from somewhere else in your body and use it as a graft to repair your damaged tricep tendon.
While this guide provides insight as to why you might be experiencing pain in the back of your elbow, there’s no substitute for seeing a doctor. Schedule an appointment at The Hand and Wrist Institute today. Our orthopedic specialists have experience treating sports injuries and can perform tests to provide a proper diagnosis. From there, we’ll recommend the appropriate treatment options to help you get back to your regular activities.