Picture this: You’re just wrapping up with a gym session or hard day at work, and you notice an ache radiating from your triceps. And for the next few days, it doesn’t seem to let up. Sound familiar? You might be facing triceps tendonitis — an uncommon but painful condition that can take a frustrating toll on your daily life.
If you’re an active person, everyday wear and tear may have caused your triceps to become strained over time. But the good news is that a simple triceps tendonitis massage could bring some much-needed relief.
Read on to learn five massage techniques that can help you melt away triceps pain, along with some safety tips to keep in mind.
What Is Triceps Tendonitis?
Triceps tendonitis is a condition that occurs when the tendon in the back of the upper arm becomes inflamed, damaged, or irritated. It usually arises after a long period of overuse, and is sometimes referred to as “weightlifter’s elbow.”
So, how exactly does this condition happen?
For many people, repetitive strain is the primary culprit. For example, imagine you bench press multiple times per week. Each time you lift the barbell, your triceps suffer tiny micro-tears and trauma.
With enough recovery time in between workouts, your muscles and tendons will build back strong, and you may never notice any unusual pain. But if they don’t have enough time to recover, they could become weakened and injured over time. In turn, this can result in the painful symptoms of triceps tendonitis.
Sometimes, the triceps tendon can also be acutely damaged — like during a fall or while lifting weights that are too heavy.
The symptoms may include:
- An achy, sore feeling around the back of the arm and elbow
- A snapping or grating sensation when moving the tendon
- Swelling or redness near the tendon
Who Gets Triceps Tendonitis?
Any motion that involves extending, bending, or otherwise engaging your triceps can put stress on the tendon. This means everyone from gym enthusiasts to hard laborers may experience triceps tendonitis at some point or another.
Even if you don’t work out or have a hard labor job, something as small as leaning on your elbow too often could eventually lead to painful symptoms.
Some specific activities that strain the triceps include:
- Hammering and other manual labor tasks
- Forcefully throwing a ball or swinging a racket
- Exercises that put pressure on the triceps tendons, such as bench pressing
What Are the Main Treatments?
The protocol for triceps tendonitis is similar to what you’d see for other overuse injuries, and it typically includes:
- Rest and activity modification. After the initial injury, rest is what helps your body kick-start the healing process.
- Home pain management tools, like over-the-counter pain medicine, ice, and compression sleeves.
- Physical therapy. In some cases, your doctor may recommend working with a physical therapist to improve your recovery. With their help, you can build a custom exercise plan to ensure your tendon heals correctly, all while improving your mobility and strength.
How Can Triceps Tendonitis Massage Help?
When it comes to triceps pain and other types of tendonitis, many people find that massage therapy is one of the most useful ways to alleviate pain and tension.
Not only can it bring soothing relief, but it can also promote healthy blood flow, support range of motion (ROM), and improve your well-being as a whole.
It’s important to note that massage should not be used when your injury is in the fresh, acute stage (usually 2-3 days after the initial injury — but it’s always best to check with your doctor). Once you’ve had a few days of rest, it can be a great way to manage the discomfort that comes with the long-term recovery process.
So, how can you get started? Here are five home techniques to try:
1. Grab a Massage Ball
The triceps has three heads, spanning from the scapula (shoulder blade) all the way down to the elbow — and all this muscle tissue means there’s a lot of space where tension can become trapped.
Fortunately, if you have a ball of some kind lying around, it can be the perfect tool to roll out trigger points in these busy muscles. Here’s how:
- Start by grabbing your massage ball and lying face down on a comfortable surface.
- Extend your arm out in front of you, and place the ball under your triceps.
- Bend your arm at the elbow with your forearm straightened upward.
- Lean into the ball with moderate pressure, and slowly alternate between straightening and bending your elbow.
- Relax your arm and rotate it from side to side to roll the muscles from different angles. If you find any especially tense or tight spots, pause and hold the pressure for a few extra seconds.
- Repeat for 1-2 minutes.
2. Hands-On Triceps Tendonitis Massage
If you don’t have any fancy massage tools at your disposal, a hands-on triceps massage is another easy technique to try at home.
To get started, have a seat in a comfortable chair and place a pillow in your lap. Then:
- Rest your affected arm on the pillow, allowing your muscles to fully relax.
- Begin with a gentle cross-fiber massage above the elbow. Use two fingers with light-to-moderate pressure to move side to side across the tendon. Repeat for 30 seconds. (Note: If it causes the pain to worsen, stop and wait a few days before trying this technique.)
- If the cross-fiber technique feels good, continue to move up the triceps, repeating the same motion for a total of 2-3 minutes.
3. Foam Rolling
As your triceps tendonitis heals, self-myofascial release with the help of a foam roller can work to ease pain and promote healthy mobility.
Get started with a simple rolling session by following these steps:
- Lie down on your affected side, and outstretch your arm.
- Rest the foam roller under your triceps near your shoulder.
- Place your opposite palm flat on the floor to keep your body stable.
- Slowly begin to roll forward and backward, taking time to pause over any tense areas or trigger points.
- To reach the muscle from different angles, you can rotate your arm as you roll.
- Repeat for 3-5 minutes.
4. Massage Gun
If you’re looking for even deeper relief without straining your hands or fingers, it might help to opt for a more powerful tool like a massage gun.
These devices use deep, rapid bursts of pressure to deliver a deep therapeutic massage to your muscles with little-to-no effort. They can be a bit intense, so it’s important to use one correctly when getting started.
So, how can you use a massage gun on your triceps? Simply:
- Grab a mini massage gun like the Accuvibe Mini.
- Attach a padded, round head to the device.
- Turn it on to a low, gentle setting. (Because the triceps can be a delicate area to work on, you won’t need anything too heavy-duty here.)
- Gently begin to glide the massage gun across the lower triceps, just above the elbow. (Tip: Don’t point it directly at your arm. Instead, angle it so that it’s almost moving sideways across the muscle.)
- Continue to repeat this motion up the back of the triceps for 1-2 minutes more. When you're done, you might feel a relaxing, tingly sensation due to the increased circulation in the muscles.
5. Other Electric Massage Tools
For more hands-off massage, you can find a variety of electric massage tools on the market.
Of course, you might not need to invest in one if you’re dealing with a one-time occurrence of triceps tendonitis, and don’t typically use massage. But if you’re someone who regularly suffers from overuse-related pain, an oscillating tool like the MedMassager MMB05 can make a significant difference in your overall well-being.
Here’s how you can use one for triceps pain relief:
- Turn the massager on to a light, gentle setting.
- Place it on the arm of a chair or couch behind your affected triceps muscle.
- Gently lean into the massager, allowing it to deliver a deep, oscillating massage to the muscle for 30-60 seconds.
- After warming up your muscles, feel free to adjust the massager to a deeper pressure level.
- Allow it to work into the triceps for a total of 5-10 minutes, up to a few times per day.
Triceps Tendonitis Massage Safety Tips
For most people, triceps tendonitis massage can be an incredibly soothing tool to try. Its gentle pressure can help break up stiffness, boost blood flow, and keep pain at bay while you heal.
But it’s important to choose the right level of massage for you — and use it at the appropriate time in your recovery process. So, as you get started, remember to:
- Pay attention to any unusual or excessive pain. It may be normal to feel a little bit of tension while working on tender triceps, but watch out for anything that’s unusual or outright painful.
- Begin with light pressure and increase as needed. Starting slow can help you work your way up to the best pressure level for you.
- Don’t massage an injury right away. This is especially important if your triceps tendonitis was triggered by acute trauma — like a fall or a lifting session gone wrong. In any case, be sure to give it a few days of rest and ice before jumping into a massage.
- Check with your physician. Certain injuries may not be suitable for massage, so it’s important to get the OK from your doctor first.
Should You Try Professional Sports Massage for Triceps Tendonitis?
Sports massage therapy is a professional type of massage used for athletes and those who put their bodies under a lot of stress. And if you tend to experience regular overuse-related aches and pains, it may be a beneficial option for you.
How can you know if you’re a good candidate for sports massage? In short, it can be a great choice if you lead an active lifestyle and are interested in benefits like:
- Improved recovery after exercise
- Relief from minor strains
- Boosting joint range of motion (ROM)
- Preventing injury by breaking up stiffness
- Reducing muscle spasms
- Releasing trigger points (knots)
Don’t Forget About the Other Important Remedies
No matter how you decide to incorporate massage into your routine, it’s important not to overlook other standard remedies for relief. And as a rule of thumb, tendon and other soft tissue injuries can almost always benefit from a few days of the RICE method.
- Rest: As mentioned earlier, it’s vital to give your triceps a few days to rest and repair in the beginning stages of tendonitis.
- Ice: Cold compresses or ice packs can help you manage pain and inflammation.
- Compression: Some people may benefit from using a compression sleeve to help keep swelling down.
- Elevation: This step simply refers to keeping the affected area above the heart (but it’s not always applicable to every injury – like in the case of triceps pain.)
Another key step in tendonitis relief is keeping your triceps mobile, flexible, and strong in the right ways. Here are some common physician-recommended exercises for triceps tendonitis prevention and recovery:
Note: Be sure to check with your doctor before exercising with an injury.
1. Triceps Towel Stretch
This exercise offers an easy way to get blood flowing and gently stretch your triceps. Simply:
- Grab a towel and roll it up lengthwise.
- With one hand, dangle the towel behind your back.
- Using your opposite hand, reach behind your lower back and grab hold of the opposite end of the towel.
- Pull the towel down to feel a deep stretch in the upper triceps.
- Stretch for 20-30 seconds, and repeat 5 times.
2. Behind-the-Head Stretch
If you’d rather skip the towel — and any other equipment — the behind-the-head stretch is another great exercise to help lengthen and loosen your muscles. Here are the steps:
- Sit or stand with straight, aligned posture.
- Point your affected elbow up in the air, and reach your hand back towards your neck.
- Use your opposite hand to grab your affected elbow. Then, gently push it backward until you feel a stretch in the triceps.
- Hold for 10-20 seconds, and repeat 3-5 times.
Triceps Tendonitis Prevention Tips
Once your tendonitis is on the mend, preventative steps can go a long way in ensuring you don’t have to deal with it in the future.
So, if you’re an athlete, laborer, or otherwise someone prone to this condition, here are some tips that can help you keep your arms healthy and pain-free for the long run:
- Be sure to warm up before exercising or working. Active stretches (aka stretches involving movement) can help you get blood flowing before heavy pushing or lifting.
- Avoid overworking your arms. With plenty of rest in between triceps-taxing activities, you can avoid the repetitive strain that contributes to tendonitis.
- Take a break if you start to feel pain during an activity. Pain is your body’s way of signaling that something isn’t right. So, if you feel that familiar triceps pain creeping up while lifting or working, try to find ways to change what you’re doing and stop it early on.
When To Talk to Your Doctor
Most people with mild tendonitis can count on their pain easing up within a few weeks. But in some cases, what feels like tendonitis pain could be a more serious condition.
With that in mind, be sure to give your doctor a call if:
- Your pain is extreme or getting in the way of your daily activities
- Your pain isn’t getting better — or is worsening — after a few days of standard home treatments
- You have swelling, inflammation, and redness that doesn’t seem to be improving
The Takeaway on Triceps Tendonitis Massage
Triceps tendonitis doesn’t happen often — but when it strikes, it can put a hold on your daily life. Fortunately, most people need just a few weeks of TLC to start feeling pain-free again. And along the way, self-massage can be a great tool to add to your home care routine.
Whether you prefer hands-on options or a recovery tool like a massage gun, the simple techniques above can help improve your comfort, relieve stiffness, and soothe pain until you’re able to get back in action.
For Daily Recovery Relief
If you’re looking to support your active lifestyle with deeper daily recovery, the tools from MedMassager can help.