When Can I Return to the Gym After an Elbow Injury?

This is a question we often get asked, along with “How quickly can I get back to the gym after elbow surgery?” We understand what motivates patients to ask, particularly those with active lifestyles who are eager to continue training.

Most elbow injuries or strains are the result of tears of the tendons and ligaments around the joint. Common examples would be tennis and golfer’s elbow, biceps tendinopathy and lateral ligament tears after a full or partial dislocation. Recovering from an elbow problem can sometimes be a fairly lengthy process, because the blood flow necessary to heal the commonly injured areas is less than many other parts of the body.

Precisely how long will be determined by factors like your age, your general state of health and how well and much you are able to comply with a recommended rehab program. Generally, we advise a cautious approach of reducing the intensity of your normal activities in the short term, combined with continued physiotherapy for the longer term,

Elbow surgery

We offer elbow surgery for a wide range of conditions and symptoms including tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow, ligament tears, distal biceps rupture and damage to the elbow joint. If you have developed severe stiffness after an injury, or previous surgery, we are also able to perform a procedure to regain good motion.

Recovering after an elbow injury

Although precise guidance will vary from person to person (and you should always follow the specific advice you are given) there are some general rules for recovering after an elbow injury or surgery to your elbow:

  1. Do not return to the gym until your consultant and physiotherapist give you the go-ahead – it can take some time for you to make a full recovery and you may not be able to lift the weights that you were lifting before you became injured in the beginning. Your consultant will advise you on the expected healing time for your injury.You will be tested for strength, joint stability and range of movement.
  2. Start slowly and build up the weight gradually. It can take three to six months of gradual progression to return to weight training and you should not increase the amount of weight lifted by more than 10-15% at a time. Make sure you are using the correct technique to avoid becoming injured again and, if in doubt, ask a qualified instructor or personal trainer.
  3. Know your limits and know when to stop. Strong discomfort is your body’s natural warning sign that you may be pushing things too far. If you try to do too much too soon limits you risk a more serious injury or permanent damage.
  4. Warm up your muscles and cool down after exercise. Use the stretches shown to you by the physiotherapist to lengthen and soften the scar tissue that will have formed in your arm.
  5. Certain exercises should be avoided too soon after elbow surgery. These include the behind-the-neck shoulder press, wide-grip bench press, triceps press overhead, standing lateral deltoid raises and pulldowns behind-the-neck (wide grip). As a general rule, avoid allowing your elbow to be stretched to the extreme end of its range of motion. Talk to your physio and consultant about other exercises that may require caution.
  6. Your physiotherapist will recommend exercises to build strength and range of motion in your arm and shoulder and you should do these regularly, as instructed. If you have had surgery then your surgeon will set limits and goals as to what can and can’t be done within certain time periods.

If you injure your elbow, it is important to receive prompt diagnosis and treatment from a reputable consultant who will not only treat the problem but will support your rehabilitation with good aftercare. Elbow surgery generally has excellent outcomes and can relieve pain and restore movement.