Inner Elbow Pain After Bicep Curls: 6 Potential Reasons Explained

published by: Debbie Luna
Last Updated:
January 6, 2023

Among the issues that can arise from incorrect bicep curl form, inner elbow pain is perhaps the most readily identifiable due to the rather specific nature of its causes.

In the event that you believe your inner elbow pain is indeed being caused by execution of the biceps curl exercise, it is best to cease performing the movement and to check whether you indeed are performing bicep curls correctly.

Inner elbow pain after a set of bicep curls is caused by overexertion of the forearm muscles, or excessive pressure being placed on the elbow joint due to too much weight being lifted. Other causes of such symptoms can be poor wrist form or poor forearm mobility in general.

Exploring Inner Elbow Pain - Symptoms and Anatomy

Chronic inner elbow pain is occasionally referred to as golfers or tennis elbow, a condition where the connective tissues that make up the elbow can become inflamed or otherwise irritated due to overuse and supramaximal loading during exercises like the bicep curl or chin-up.

lateral epicondylitis

Even in cases where the pain of the inner elbow is acute in nature, it is still considered to be a cause for concern, as leaving it unchecked can result in the injury worsening or the progression of the lifter to suffer due to their workouts being hampered.

Generally, inner elbow pain will be centered around the proximal end of the ulna bone of the forearm, occasionally also involving the ulnar nerve in particularly severe cases. This pain will radiate further along the forearm, and often be sharp during the bicep curl, and grow dull after the set has been completed. 

Other symptoms can also accompany such pain, with more concerning symptoms calling for medical attention so as to avoid permanent reduction in the physiological capabilities of the joint.

When to See a Physician

It is necessary to seek out the advice of a medical professional if the pain lasts for more than a week despite a period of inactivity, or if the pain is accompanied by symptoms such as numbness, tingling, discoloration of the afflicted area or weakness in the grip strength of the affected arm.

Why Does Inner Elbow Pain Occur After Performing Curls?

Generally, inner elbow pain is unlikely to occur if your bicep curl execution and programming is being done correctly. The occurrence of such symptoms means that one or multiple issues relating to these two factors are to blame, and that correcting such issues will almost always mean a cessation of the pain.

1. Excessive Weight

Performing bicep curls with too much weight can cause the elbows to compensate for the biceps being overloaded, resulting in injuries and generally poor progression. Bicep curls are meant to be performed with a rate of perceived exertion between 5 and 8, meaning that excessive loading will lead to errors in form and shifting of muscular recruitment.

While this may be obvious to many, performing the bicep curl with too much weight is an example of poor training practice, and is not the intended purpose of the exercise. 

2. Failure to Maintain Neutral Wrist Positioning

During most bicep curl variations, the wrist is meant to be maintained in a neutral position, meaning that the small bones and tendons of the hand will remain in-line with the bones of the forearm, creating a more stable and secure structure overall.

neutral wrist position right vs wrong

When the wrist enters a state of extension or flexion - meaning that it is bending in either direction - the tendons of the forearm will stretch to compensate for the disadvantageous position, often leading to pain along the attachment points of the radius and ulna bones.

This is an acute cause of elbow pain, and can often also be experienced along the inner portion of the wrist as well - usually together due to the tendons being stretched out of place.

3. Chronic Overuse and Excessive Volume

Chronic overuse and excessive training volume are actually the same error in training programming - in both cases, the exerciser is performing far too many sets or repetitions of an exercise, often without proper recovery protocols being implemented so as to mitigate the damage to the tissues of the body.

In the case of inner elbow pain caused by bicep curls, this is either due to the lifter performing excessive amounts of repetitions per workout, or performing bicep curls far too often within a given training week - without days of recovery in-between.

Over time, such errors in programming can lead to a failure in recovery, causing the connective or muscular tissues to become swollen and inflamed and generally reducing any sort of progress that the lifter may wish to make.

4. Unneeded Forearm Involvement

While the forearms should aid in maintaining stability and provide a small amount of force during a repetition of the bicep curl, they are not meant to take over the exercise, such as would be the case in the forearm and wrist curling inwards as the lifter performs the concentric portion of the movement.

biceps curl jerking weight

This can lead to stress and pressure being placed on the soft tissues of the elbow, causing symptoms of pain and eliminating any training stimulus that may be induced into the biceps by the exercise.

5. Performing Bicep Curls at an Akimbo Angle

The ideal angle with which to perform a bicep curl is with the arms facing somewhat forward and away from the torso. 

While some higher level bodybuilders are known to perform the exercise with the arms facing almost lateral to the torso, this is generally a poor idea for less-conditioned lifters due to the stress it can place on the connective tissues of the arm.

Performing bicep curls in this manner can lead to elbow pain and even tears of the short head of the biceps brachii.

6. Poor Elbow Conditioning or Mobility

Either due to insufficient preparatory work or because of factors causing the tissues of the elbow to degenerate, pain along the inner portion of the elbow may simply be a result of unconditioned or immobile connective tissues therein.

Factors like a previous history of elbow injury, advanced age or certain genetic conditions can lead to the tissues of the elbow having a poor range of motion or otherwise being susceptible to damage. 

While this is also caused by poor conditioning work, it is generally easier to remedy for the latter group of individuals, as simply performing a dynamic mobility routine should suffice.

How to Correct Bicep Curl Form for Inner Elbow Pain

Maintain Neutral Wrist and Arm Angle

As was mentioned earlier in the article, failing to maintain a neutral wrist form or performing the exercise with the arms “akimbo” can lead to pain throughout the forearms and elbows.

In particular, inner elbow pain is usually a result of stress being placed on one of the numerous tendons connected therein, and is almost always seen in cases of a lifter whose wrists are collapsing beneath the weight of the curl.

To remedy this, lower the weight and practice strengthening the extensor and flexor muscles of the forearms - as well as ensure that the angle with which the arms are placed relative to the torso is mechanically advantageous for your body.

Keep Elbows Stable

Lifters performing the bicep curl with excessive weight or poor form may draw the elbows upwards or flare them as they perform the concentric portion of the exercise, thereby placing undue pressure upon the joint and leading to pain or poor training stimulus.

While the elbows are not necessarily meant to stay locked against the side of the torso during a bicep curl repetition, they are nonetheless supposed to remain in a relatively stable and fixed position, with no flaring or horizontal movement to compensate for the biceps being overloaded.

The usage of a preacher curl machine can help with this issue, though lifters must note that doing so will drastically reduce the amount of weight lifted.

Avoid Full Extension After the Repetition

At the end of a bicep curl repetition, fully extending the elbows downwards is not entirely necessary, and may even result in pain along the entirety of the elbow itself.

Simply allowing the arms to enter a state of near full extension is sufficient to maximize the range of motion of a bicep curl, and can easily be remedied by performing the exercise with the use of a barbell instead of a pair of dumbbells - thereby allowing the movement to self-limit in terms of full elbow extension.

Non-Form Related Methods of Alleviating Inner Elbow Pain from Bicep Curls

Reduce Weight and Frequency

A sure-fire method of reducing the incidence of inner elbow pain after bicep curls is to reduce the weight that is being lifted, and the frequency at which the exercise is being performed per workout session.

Both of these factors are errors in training programming and generally a sign that the body is unable to keep up with the intensity or resistance of the workout, requiring that the lifter reduce the intensity and allow the body a greater length of time with which to recover.

Switch to Dumbbells or E-Z Curl Bars

Maintaining the correct wrist positioning can be quite difficult when performing bicep curls with a conventional straight bar. As such, many lifters may instead opt to perform the biceps isolation exercise with the usage of a pair of dumbbells, or even an E-Z curl bar specifically made for such a movement.

dumbbell bicep curl

Not only does this aid in maintaining a neutral wrist, but can also help in maximizing the safe range of motion of the exercise, thereby improving biceps brachii development and reducing the risk of injury therein.

ez barbell curl

Perform a Dynamic Mobility Routine

In order to properly condition the tissues of the arm to the stress of weightlifting, performing a full mobility routine that involves elbow extension and flexion movements is essential.

Furthermore, performing dynamic stretches that target the muscles of the forearm and the tissues of the wrist joint will aid in maintaining correct form throughout each bicep curl repetition, reducing the risk of developing inner elbow pain or a host of other injuries.

Perform a Substitute Exercise Instead

In cases where you’ve tried quite literally everything yet are still experiencing inner elbow pain from bicep curls, it may be time to substitute the movement with one of similar functionality.

Fortunately, due to the simplicity of the bicep curl, there are quite a number of possible alternatives that can more than fulfill their role in your training program. It is as simple as finding one that best fits your physiology and equipment availability.

Bicep Curl Alternatives for Inner Elbow Pain

1. Hammer Curls

Hammer curls allow the lifter to maintain a fully neutral wrist position throughout the exercise, while also reducing the involvement of the flexor and extensor digitalis muscles that make up the forearms - thereby also reducing any risk of developing inner elbow pain after the set.

dumbbell hammer curl

As such, hammer curls are one of the most widely applicable alternatives to the bicep curl for individuals with such problems - though they are largely ineffective if your inner elbow pain is caused by hyperextension at the end of the repetition, or bending the arms too far to the sides.

2. Arm Blaster Curls

The usage of specialized equipment for the bicep curl known as an “arm blaster” can aid in achieving the correct movement angle and safe range of motion, creating a safer and far more effective bicep curl.

arm blaster benefits

Furthermore, arm blaster curls are performed in practically the same manner as standard bicep curls, meaning that the majority of lifters will have no difficulty simply switching from one to the other without any change in their training program.

Unfortunately, arm blaster curls are not the correct substitute to the conventional bicep curl for individuals whose inner elbow pain is caused by poor wrist form or a lack of elbow conditioning - as these are two factors that are not corrected through the use of an arm blaster.

3. Cable Curls

Cable curls have the unique capacity to change the angle of resistance of the bicep curl, remedying a number of different form or conditioning related issues that cause inner elbow pain.

cable one arm curl

Furthermore, the reduced isometric contraction of the cable curl can also aid in reducing forearm involvement during the exercise, also eliminating one possible cause of inner elbow pain. 

For lifters with trouble performing the bicep curl due to the angle of resistance or because of excessive forearm muscle involvement, the cable curl may be the ideal alternative to the conventional bicep curl.

Final Thoughts

Checked your form and conditioning, yet still experiencing inner elbow pain after a set of curls? It may be time to see a medical professional.

Remember, even before confirming with your physician that you are indeed injured, it is generally a good idea to compress and protect the injured area, as well as to try and reduce inflammation by applying ice.

Depending on the severity of your injury, you may need to avoid bicep curls for a certain length of time, or entirely eliminate them from your workout routine.

References

1. Kasim Serbest. A Biomechanical Analysis of Dumbbell Curl and Investigation of the Effects of Increasing Loads on Biceps Brachii Using A Finite Element Model, 02 February 2022, PREPRINT (Version 1) available at Research Square [https://doi.org/10.21203/rs.3.rs-1263844/v1]

2. Kawczyński, Adam. "Force and Electromyographic Responses of the Biceps Brachii after Eccentric Exercise in Athletes and non-Athletes" Journal of Human Kinetics, vol.68, no.1, 2019, pp.203-210. https://doi.org/10.2478/hukin-2019-0068

3. Barakat, Christopher, Renato Barroso, Michael Alvarez, Jacob Rauch, Nicholas Miller, Anton Bou-Sliman, and Eduardo O. De Souza. 2019. "The Effects of Varying Glenohumeral Joint Angle on Acute Volume Load, Muscle Activation, Swelling, and Echo-Intensity on the Biceps Brachii in Resistance-Trained Individuals" Sports 7, no. 9: 204. https://doi.org/10.3390/sports7090204

Debbie (Deb) started powerlifting and Olympic lifting in High School as part of her track team's programming; She continues to train in order to remain athletic. Inspire US allows Deb to share information related to training, lifting, biomechanics, and more.
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