Read below about tricep pain, including causes, treatment options and remedies. Or get a personalized analysis of your tricep pain from our A.I. health assistant. At Buoy, we build tools that help you know what’s wrong right now and how to get the right care.

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Tricep Pain Symptoms

The triceps muscle has three parts that run down the back of the upper arm and join together to form a single tendon attaching to the tip of the elbow. This muscle primarily acts to extend the forearm, so it is involved in multiple sports activities, including tennis, golf, and gymnastics. Pain in the triceps can interfere with your ability to participate in sports and carry out daily activities. Fortunately, many causes of tricep pain will resolve with treatment or simply with time.

Characteristics

Characteristics that can be associated with tricep pain depending on the underlying cause include [1]:

Tricep Pain Causes Overview

Potential causes of tricep pain have been provided below, in order from most to least common. Causes include post-workout pain, injury, and nerve pain [2].

Post-workout pain

Pain in the area of the triceps can occur the day after a weightlifting workout or sports activity involving the repeated extension of the forearm. This is particularly likely to occur if you abruptly increased the intensity of your workout.

Injury

Injuries that could lead to tricep pain include the following.

  • Acute injury: The triceps tendon is not commonly injured, but a tear can occur after a fall with the arm stretched out or during a sports event [3]. Tearing of the triceps tendon often causes pain, swelling, bruising, and a gap in the muscle above the elbow.
  • Overuse injury: Repeated use of the triceps during sports or occupational activities can cause an overuse injury of the tendon characterized by inflammation and pain.

Nerve pain

Pain in the area of the triceps can occur due to a pinched nerve in the neck, depending on which nerve is affected. This condition typically occurs due to abnormalities of the spinal cord such as a bulging disc or bony changes associated with arthritis. In addition to arm pain, nerve compression in the neck can cause neck pain and sensory symptoms in the arm, like numbness and tingling. You may also have weakness during forearm extension.

A.I. Health Assistant Causes for Tricep Pain

The list below shows results from the use of our A.I. Health Assistant by Buoy users who experienced tricep pain. This list does not constitute medical advice.

  1. 1.Repetitive Strain Injury of the Upper Arm

    Repetitive strain injury of the upper arm is caused by consistent repetitive use.

    Resolves with rest

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    upper arm pain from overuse, upper arm weakness, upper arm numbness
    Symptoms that always occur with repetitive strain injury of the upper arm:
    upper arm pain from overuse
    Symptoms that never occur with repetitive strain injury of the upper arm:
    upper arm injury, severe upper arm pain
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  2. 2.Bruised Tricep

    A bruise is the damage of the blood vessels that return blood to the heart (the capillaries and veins), which causes pooling of the blood. This explains the blue/purple color of most bruises. Bruises of the tricep are common, often due to minor injury.

    Bruises tend to begin healing within one week.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    constant upper arm pain, tricep injury, pain in one tricep, swelling of one arm, upper arm bruise
    Symptoms that always occur with bruised tricep:
    tricep injury, constant upper arm pain
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment

    Tricep Pain Checker

    Take a quiz to find out why you’re having tricep pain.

    Tricep Pain Quiz
  3. 3.Cellulitis

    Facial cellulitis is a skin infection that typically comes from other parts of the face like the mouth or the sinuses and needs antibiotic treatment. Symptoms can be pain, redness, warmth and swelling of the affected area.

    Dependent on severity of infection

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    fever, chills, facial redness, swollen face, face pain
    Symptoms that always occur with cellulitis:
    facial redness, area of skin redness
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  4. 4.Brachial Plexopathy (Shoulder Nerve Issue)

    The brachial plexus is a complex nerve network located in the upper chest and shoulder region. Nerves can be explained as 'electric wires' of the body, passing through signals from the brain to the spinal cord and from the spinal cord to the muscles. The brachial plexus is a bundle of nerves that lies deep to the collar bone, which supplies the shoulder, arm, forearm, and hand. When this bundle of nerves is (partially) damaged, one speaks of a 'plexopathy'. Several causes of damage can be injury or forceful trauma, inflammation or infection. A commonly known cause is sports injury in contact sports like football and rugby. Symptoms can include pain, burning, numbness and weakness in the shoulder and arm on one side, sometimes shooting through the arm to the hand. An acute (sports) injury that causes this condition is often called 'burners' or 'stingers' because of the burning and stinging type of pain. When the cause is inflammation of the nerves, it is often called the Parsonage-Turner syndrome.

    The severity of this condition is highly variable, and dependent on the amount of damage caused to the nerves. Brachial plexus injury following surgery usually has a good prognosis. Recovery times range from 2 weeks to 2 years.

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    pain in one arm, shoulder pain that shoots to the arm, arm weakness, numbness in one arm, shoulder pain
    Symptoms that never occur with brachial plexopathy (shoulder nerve issue):
    pain in the front middle part of the neck
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor

Tricep Pain Treatments and Relief

Many causes of pain in the area of the triceps do not require immediate evaluation [1]. However, surgical management is sometimes necessary for an acute injury to the triceps. You may also require imaging to rule out additional injuries such as an elbow fracture.

At-home treatments

Various at-home remedies may help soothe your tricep pain.

  • RICE: Try RICE (a mnemonic for rest, ice, compression, and elevation) treatment for pain associated with an acute or overuse injury. This means resting and icing the arm, as well as applying compression (such as with an ace bandage) and elevating the arm to prevent or reduce swelling.
  • Over-the-counter pain medications: NSAIDs such as Ibuprofen can help with pain and swelling associated with an acute or overuse injury, but make sure to follow the dosing directions on the bottle and do not take the medication for more than a week without seeing a medical provider.
  • Professional training: If you experience tricep pain during a sport like tennis, try taking lessons with a professional to improve your form.
  • Exercise at a steady pace: To prevent tricep pain after weightlifting workouts, avoid sudden increases in weights or repetitions.
  • Use heat: A heating pad can help relieve pain associated with nerve compression in the neck.

When to make an appointment

In some cases, even if emergency care isn't necessary, you may need evaluation and treatment. Make an appointment with your medical provider if:

  • You have pain in both the neck and the back of the upper arm.
  • You have gradual onset tingling, numbness, or weakness in the arm.
  • Your pain is staying the same or getting worse.
  • Your pain is interfering with your ability to play sports and/or carry out activities required for daily functioning.

Medical treatments

Your medical provider may prescribe one or more of the following treatments, depending on the cause of your tricep pain:

  • Physical therapy: This can help strengthen the tricep muscle and tendon.
  • Use of a collar: This can stabilize the neck for a short period of time.
  • Pain medications: These can help with arm pain and tingling associated with nerve compression.
  • Surgery: You may need a referral for surgical management of a pinched nerve or overuse injury of the tendon if other treatments have not been effective.

Seek emergency treatment for the following

You should seek immediate treatment in the emergency room if:

  • You are unable to move your arm after a tricep injury.
  • There is an obvious deformity, such as a palpable gap in the muscle just above the elbow.
  • You have significant pain, swelling, and/or bruising of the upper arm after falling onto an outstretched hand.
  • You have sudden onset arm pain or tingling and/or weakness of forearm extension, which may indicate an injury to the spinal cord due to a herniated disc or other abnormality in the neck.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Tricep Pain

  • Q.Did you recently experience an injury to the upper arm area?
  • Q.Do you have any idea what may have caused your upper arm pain?
  • Q.Have any of your muscles gotten much smaller (wasted away)?
  • Q.Does your pain continue into the night?

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions, try our tricep pain symptom checker to find out more.

Tricep Pain Quiz

Tricep Pain Symptom Checker Statistics

  • People who have experienced tricep pain have also experienced:

    • 21% Pain in One Shoulder
    • 6% Shoulder Pain
    • 5% Elbow Pain
  • People who have experienced tricep pain had symptoms persist for:

    • 37% Over a Month
    • 22% Less Than a Week
    • 20% Less Than a Day
  • People who have experienced tricep pain were most often matched with:

    • 66% Cellulitis
    • 16% Repetitive Strain Injury of the Upper Arm
    • 16% Bruised Tricep
  • Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

A.I. Health Assistant

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References

  1. Triceps Tendon Injury. Tufts Medical Center Community Care. HHMA Link
  2. Tom JA, Kumar NS, Cerynik DL, Mashru R, Parrella MS. Diagnosis and Treatment of Triceps Tendon Injuries: A Review of the Literature. Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine. 2014;24(3):197-204. NCBI Link
  3. Shuttlewood K, Beazley J, Smith CD. Distal Triceps Injuries (Including Snapping Triceps): A Systematic Review of the Literature. World Journal of Orthopedics. 2017;8(6):507-513. NCBI Link
  4. Foulk DM, Galloway MT. Partial Triceps Disruption: A Case Report. Sports Health. 2011;3(2):175-178. NCBI Link
  5. Taylor SA, Hannafin JA. Evaluation and Management of Elbow Tendinopathy. Sports Health. 2012;4(5):384-393. NCBI Link