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Can Pull-Ups Cause Tennis Elbow? (Explained For Beginners)

Tennis elbow is a reasonably common injury.

It can cause pain and discomfort in your elbow, forearms, and even sometimes in your hands.

In this article, we look at whether pull-ups can cause tennis elbow. 

We dive a bit deeper into things though and look at different variations of pull-ups to see if some impact your elbows more than others.

And we also discuss how pull-ups, in general, affect your elbows and whether they’re safe for you to do if you are carrying an elbow injury.

Can Pull-Ups Cause Tennis Elbow?

Tennis elbow is usually caused by overusing your forearm muscles.

During pull-ups (particularly with a pronated grip) your forearms have to work very hard to maintain a strong grip on the bar.

The tendons surrounding your elbows and forearm muscles can get damaged if you put too much stress on the working muscles without allowing sufficient time to recover in between workouts.

In simple terms, you could think of tennis elbow as a repetitive strain injury.

If you do pull-ups regularly with too little recovery time, then this could lead to tennis elbow.

It’s worth remembering though, that any repetitive movement or exercise that puts stress on your forearm muscles can ultimately cause tennis elbow.

While pull-ups might not necessarily be the sole cause of the injury, they could play a part in it.

Can You Do Pull-Ups With Tennis Elbow?

This is one of those frustrating fitness-based questions where the answer is both yes and no. 

It ultimately depends on your individual situation and whether you’ve seen a medical professional about your injury.

Pull-ups can actually help you recover from mild cases of tennis elbow (in some situations).

They can help build strength in the muscles and tendons surrounding your elbow which can help you recover.

That being said, pull-ups (especially if they’re not performed correctly) can cause and make tennis elbow worse. 

Speaking to your doctor will likely be the best way of knowing whether pull-ups will help your tennis elbow or not.

They may recommend exercises like this but they could also advise you to completely rest the affected area for a couple of weeks to allow it enough time to recover.

It’s always advisable to listen to medical professionals when it comes to injury care, so this should overrule anything else you’re doing to aid your tennis elbow.

How To Do Pull-Ups With Tennis Elbow

There tend to be two main contributing factors to tennis elbow when performing pull-ups.

They are a pronated grip (palms-down) and a tight grip on the bar.

If you avoid these two things, you’re less likely to aggravate your tennis elbow during the exercise.

A supinated grip (palms-up) can help reduce some of the pressure placed on your forearm muscles which can prevent too much aggravation of your injury.

This will target slightly different muscles to the pronated grip version of the exercise though.

If you want to keep your pull-ups as close as possible to your normal pronated grip version, then you could try to adopt a more relaxed grip on the bar.

It may sound a bit strange but using your fingers more than your palms to grip the bar can help keep your tennis elbow at bay during pull-ups.

This can take some getting used to so you may need to use pull-up bands to assist you in the movement while you get used to the new, more relaxed grip.

Can Pull-Ups Make Tennis Elbow Worse?

Yes, pull-ups can make tennis elbow worse although this isn’t always the case.

Using an incorrect technique, doing pull-ups too often, and putting too much stress on your forearms can all make your tennis elbow worse (and potentially cause it in the first place).

Unless your doctor or physiotherapist recommends it, it’s usually a good idea to avoid most exercises that can put pressure on the muscles and tendons around your elbow until it has completely healed and recovered.

Are Narrow Grip Or Wide Grip Pull Ups Better For Tennis Elbow?

As a general rule (although it could differ for some people) wide grip pull-ups will be a better choice if you have tennis elbow.

The main reason for this is that your forearms are more likely to get overloaded when using a close-grip for pull-ups. 

If your forearm muscles get overloaded, this can put extra stress on the tendons in the elbow which is what’s affected by tennis elbow. 

If you’re going to do pull-ups when you have tennis elbow, a wide grip will probably be better.

Are Pull-Ups Bad For Your Elbows?

If you do pull-ups with the correct technique, are properly warmed up, and have the appropriate fitness level to perform them safely, pull-ups shouldn’t be bad for your elbows.

However, poor technique and warm-up, or trying to do too much too soon can cause issues for your elbows.

Pull-ups are a challenging exercise so you need to take a lot of care to make sure they’re done safely.

Even small errors can lead to injury and pain in your elbows.

Why Do Some People’s Elbows Click During Pull-Ups?

If clicking, popping, and cracking come from your joints without the presence of pain, it’s normally a harmless noise that naturally occurs in your body.

However, pain or discomfort that comes with noise can indicate something more serious is going on.

When doing pull-ups, your elbows may click as a result of your muscles getting tighter. So when they rub against a bone, friction is created resulting in audible noise.

The clicking could also be from your tendons sliding over bone which generates vibration and sound.

If you experience pain or discomfort as well as clicking from your elbows during pull-ups, it is probably sensible to stop doing them until you have spoken with a medical professional to find out what the cause could be.

How To Prevent Elbow Pain When Doing Pull-Ups

Pull-ups can cause pain in your elbows, but there are some things you can do which may help prevent pain.

An elbow sleeve (support strap) could offer enough support for your elbows to prevent them from hurting. 

Ensuring you are using the correct technique throughout the exercise can also go a long way in keeping your elbows healthy and pain-free.

Increasing the number of reps and sets you perform gradually will make sure your working muscles don’t get overloaded too quickly.

As long as you’re careful and perform pull-ups correctly and sensibly, they’re a great muscle-building exercise and can be done very effectively with minimal risk of injury.

Are One-Arm Pull-Ups Bad For Your Elbows?

One-arm pull-ups tend to be one of the most common pull-up variations that lead to injury in the elbows.

The exercise is extremely challenging and is only really suitable for experienced gym-goers who have built up good levels of strength prior to attempting them.

Building up gradually is the most effective way of minimizing the injury risk of one-arm pull-ups.

Here’s a great video showing you how to safely progress one-arm pull-ups.

The negative (lowering) phase of the exercise is when most elbow issues occur.

This is commonly caused by loss of control and allowing your body weight to fall through the negative phase, placing a huge amount of stress on one elbow.

You’ll need to keep your movements under full control throughout the exercise to keep your elbows healthy and injury-free during one-arm pull-ups.

Sources

Tennis Elbow