Triceps Tendonitis

Triceps tendonitis is a condition characterized by tissue damage to the triceps tendon causing pain in the back of the elbow.
The muscle at the back of the upper arm is known as the triceps. The triceps originates from the shoulder blade and humerus (upper arm bone) and inserts into the ulna (forearm bone) via the triceps tendon.

The triceps muscle is primarily responsible for straightening the elbow and assisting certain shoulder movements. During contraction of the triceps, tension is placed through the triceps tendon.

When this tension is excessive due to too much repetition or high force, damage to the triceps tendon may occur. Triceps tendonitis is a condition whereby there is damage to the triceps tendon with subsequent degeneration and inflammation.

This may occur traumatically due to a high force going through the triceps tendon beyond what it can withstand, or more commonly, due to gradual wear and tear associated with overuse.

Cause

Triceps tendonitis most commonly occurs due to repetitive or prolonged activities placing strain on the triceps tendon.

This typically occurs due to repetitive pushing activities or straightening the elbow against resistance (such as performing push ups or dips).

Occasionally, it may occur suddenly due to a high force going through the triceps tendon beyond what it can withstand. This most commonly occurs during heavy weight lifting in a gym environment.

Symptoms

Patients with this condition typically experience pain in the back of the elbow. In less severe cases, patients may only experience an ache or stiffness in the elbow that increases with rest following activities requiring strong or repetitive contraction of the triceps muscle.

These activities may include performing push ups, bench presses or dips, using a hammer repetitively or punching excessively (e.g. boxing).

In more severe cases, patients may experience an ache that increases to a sharper pain with activity.

Occasionally patients may notice swelling at the back of the elbow and experience weakness when attempting to straighten the elbow against resistance and pain or tightness when performing a triceps stretch.

Pain may also increase when firmly touching the affected triceps tendon.

Diagnosis

A thorough subjective and objective examination from a physiotherapist is usually sufficient to diagnose triceps tendonitis.

Occasionally, further investigations such as an ultrasound, X-ray, CT scan or MRI scan may be required to assist with diagnosis and assess the severity of the condition.

Treatment

During the acute phase when the injury is new, rest and do not perform any activity or exercise that causes pain.

Apply an ice pack, covered in a towel, to the painful area for 20 minutes several times a day. You may find that compression with a stretch bandage may help.

As the pain improves, you can begin a gradual program of stretching and strengthening the triceps.

Most patients with this condition heal well with appropriate physiotherapy and return to normal function in a number of weeks.

Occasionally, rehabilitation can take significantly longer and may take many months in those who have had the condition for a long period of time. Early physiotherapy treatment is vital to hasten recovery.

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