Triceps tendonitis is an inflammation of your triceps tendon, which is a thick band of connective tissue that connects your triceps muscle to the back of your elbow. You use your triceps muscle to straighten your arm back out after you’ve bent it.
Triceps tendonitis can be caused by overuse, often due to work-related activities or sports, such as throwing a baseball. It can also occur due to a sudden injury to the tendon.
There are several different treatment recommendations for triceps tendonitis and which one is used will depend on the severity of the condition. Let’s walk through some of the treatment options below.
The first-line treatments for triceps tendonitis are aimed at reducing pain and inflammation while preventing further injury.
The acronym RICE is important to remember when initially treating triceps tendonitis:
- R – Rest. Avoid movements or activities that could further irritate or damage your triceps tendon.
- I – Ice. Apply ice to the affected area for about 20 minutes several times a day to help with pain and swelling.
- C – Compression. Use bandages or wraps to compress and provide support to the area until swelling has gone down.
- E – Elevate. Keep the affected area raised above the level of your heart to also help with swelling.
Additionally, over-the-counter (OTC) anti-inflammatory medications can be used to help with pain and swelling. Some examples include ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), naproxen sodium (Aleve), and aspirin.
Remember that children should never be given aspirin, as this can lead to a serious condition called Reye’s syndrome.
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If first-line treatments don’t work, your doctor may recommend some additional medications to treat your triceps tendonitis.
Corticosteroid injections can help to reduce pain and swelling. Your doctor will inject the medication into the area around your triceps tendon.
This treatment isn’t recommended for tendonitis that’s lasted longer than three months, as receiving repeated steroid injections can possibly weaken the tendon and increase the risk of further injury.
Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injection
Your doctor may also recommend a platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injection for your tendonitis. PRP involves taking a sample of your blood and then separating out platelets and other blood factors involved in healing.
This preparation is then injected into the area around your triceps tendon. Because tendons have a poor blood supply, the injection may help to provide nutrients to stimulate the repair process.
Physical therapy may also be an option to help treat your triceps tendonitis. It focuses on using a program of carefully selected exercises to help strengthen and stretch your triceps tendon.
Below are a few examples of simple exercises that you can do. It’s very important to remember to talk with your doctor before doing any of these exercises, as doing certain motions too quickly after injury may worsen your condition.
Elbow bend and straighten
- Close your hands into loose fists at your sides.
- Raise both hands up so that they’re about shoulder level.
- Slowly lower your hands, straightening your elbow until your hands are again at your sides.
- Repeat 10 to 20 times.
- While standing up, clasp your fingers together and raise your hands above your head.
- Keeping your hands clasped and your elbows close to your ears, lower your hands behind your head, trying to touch your upper back.
- Hold the lowered position for 15 to 20 seconds.
- Repeat 3 to 6 times.
Static triceps stretch
- Bend your injured arm so that your elbow is at 90 degrees. In this position your hand should be in a fist with your palm facing inward.
- Use the fist of your bent arm to push down on the open palm of your other hand, tightening the triceps muscles in the back of your injured arm.
- Hold for 5 seconds.
- Repeat 10 times, tightening your triceps as much as you can without pain.
- Hold one end of a towel in each of your hands.
- Stand with your injured arm over your head while the other arm is behind your back.
- Lift your injured arm toward the ceiling while using the other hand to pull down gently on the towel.
- Hold the position for 10 seconds.
- Repeat 10 times.
It’s preferable that triceps tendonitis be managed using more conservative treatments, such as rest, medications, and physical therapy.
However, if the damage to your triceps tendon is severe or other methods haven’t worked, you may require surgery to repair your damaged tendon. This is typically recommended in cases where the tendon is partially or completely torn.
Triceps tendon repair aims to reattach the damaged tendon to an area of your elbow called the olecranon. The olecranon is part of your ulna, one of the long bones of your forearm. The procedure is usually performed under general anesthesia, meaning that you’ll be unconscious during the surgery.
The affected arm is immobilized and an incision is made. Once the tendon is carefully exposed, tools called bone anchors or suture anchors are placed into the bone which attach the injured tendon to the olecranon with the help of sutures.
In cases where the tendon cannot be repaired directly to the bone, a graft may be needed. When this happens, a portion of a tendon from somewhere else in your body is used to help repair your damaged tendon.
After surgery, your arm will be immobilized in a splint or brace. As part of your recovery you’ll also have specific physical or occupational therapy exercises that you’ll need to perform to regain the strength and range of motion in your arm.
Triceps tendonitis can develop slowly over time or suddenly, due to an acute injury.
Repetitive overuse can place stress on the tendon and cause small tears to form. As the amount of tears increase, pain and inflammation can occur.
Some examples of movements that can lead to triceps tendonitis include throwing a baseball, using a hammer, or performing bench presses at the gym.
Additionally, certain factors can put you at a higher risk of developing tendonitis, including:
- a rapid increase in how hard or often you perform a repetitive movement
- not warming up or stretching properly, particularly before exercising or playing sports
- using an improper technique while performing a repetitive movement
- using anabolic steroids
- having a chronic condition such as diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis
Triceps tendonitis can also be caused by an acute injury, such as falling onto your outstretched arm or having a bent arm abruptly pulled straight.
It’s important that any kind of tendonitis is properly treated. If it isn’t, you could be at risk for a larger, more serious injury or tear.
Some symptoms that indicate that you may have triceps tendonitis include:
- achiness in the area of your triceps, shoulder, or elbow
- pain that occurs when you use your triceps muscles
- a limited range of motion in your arm
- a bulge or area of swelling on the back of your upper arm, near to your elbow
- weakness in or around your triceps, elbow, or shoulder
- a popping noise or feeling at the time of injury
Most people with triceps tendonitis will recover well with the appropriate treatment.
A very mild case of tendonitis may take several days of rest, icing, and OTC pain relief to ease, while more moderate or severe cases may take weeks or even months to fully recover from.
If you need surgery to repair your triceps tendon, your recovery will involve an initial period of immobilization followed by physical therapy or occupational therapy. The aim is to gradually increase the strength and range of motion of the affected arm.
Regardless of the severity of your tendinitis, it’s important to remember that everyone heals at a different rate. You should always be sure to carefully follow your treatment plan.
Additionally, it’s very important to return to full activity slowly. If you return too soon, you’re at risk of worsening your injury.
Many cases of triceps tendonitis may resolve using first-line care measures. However, in some cases you may need to see your doctor to discuss your condition and how to treat it more effectively.
If several days have passed and your symptoms don’t begin to improve with proper self-care, start to get worse, or are interfering with your day-to-day activities, you should visit your doctor.
There are lots of treatments available for triceps tendonitis, including:
- rest and icing
- physical therapy exercises
A very mild case of tendonitis may ease over several days of at-home therapy while moderate to severe cases can take weeks or sometimes months to heal. It’s important to remember that everyone heals differently and to stick closely to your treatment plan.