Elbow Pain in the CrossFit Athlete

by Onward Physical Therapy | February 11, 2020 |
Elbow Pain in the CrossFit Athlete

One of the most common areas of pain we see in functional fitness / CrossFit athletes is medial elbow pain. This is also known as a golfer’s elbow. This condition makes gymnastics movements such as pull-ups, muscle-ups, and toes to bar painful. When even more irritable, barbell-based movements become difficult as grip strength and pain are altered. So, why is CrossFit elbow pain so common and what can be done about it?

Why Is CrossFit Elbow Pain So Common?

We see CrossFit-related elbow pain commonly because of two main reasons: training volume issues and lat weakness. From a training volume perspective, we will typically see people that simply asked too much of their arm muscles. Naturally, this can cause irritation. For example, this may be athletes that are new to the sport and in their first few months. Ultimately, exposure to new movements and more loading than their body is used to becomes problematic. However, more frequently we see these issues pop up as athletes invest time working on higher-level skills. For instance, maybe they’re starting to work on their muscle-ups. So, they come into the gym ten minutes early every day to work on drills. That extra work adds up over a few weeks. If the medial elbow muscles can’t fully recover, they can become painful.

A second cause we will commonly see is athletes who have lat weakness. When the lats are weak we’ll see individuals who perform gymnastics-based movements with a more arm dominant strategy as shown in the following video.

What Can Be Done to Treat CrossFit Elbow Pain?

Treating CrossFit elbow pain is a 3-step process. First, we want to calm the irritated tissues down. What can we alter in your training program to allow you to continue exercising at a high level? How do we keep it below the point where these irritated tissues continue to get flared up? This may mean decreasing volume slightly or altering movements.

The second step is to strengthen the irritated tendons. In other words, this ensures long term they are able to handle more training volume and more intense exercises.

The third step is strengthening muscles around the medial elbow. Typically, as mentioned, we’ll be attacking lat weakness with exercises such as straight arm band pulldowns. These are a great option to isolate the lats.

Need More Intensive Help?

If you’re stuck with elbow pain that isn’t responding to self-treatments or other medical procedures, we’re here to get you on the road to recovery. Our sports physical therapy team in Charlotte, NC specializes in getting CrossFit athletes back to full speed! See our schedule to book an appointment today!