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The triceps muscles in the upper arms help to coordinate and strengthen arm movement. They are highly involved in actions where the elbow is raised or extended, such as swinging a hammer or throwing a ball. Even a mild tricep injury can cause serious discomfort in daily activities. The two most common types of tricep injury are acute muscle tears and chronic tendinitis, both of which can become debilitating if they are not treated properly. Most injuries can be managed at home with rest, ice, and light exercise, but a painful tricep injury typically needs to be examined and treated by a doctor to prevent complications.
Soreness and light swelling in the back of the upper arm is usually a result of an overuse injury. People who perform repetitive arm motions at work or during exercise are at risk of straining the tendons that support the triceps. Tendinitis usually worsens over time, especially if a person keeps trying to maintain his or her normal amount of activity. Arm weakness and limited range of motion in the shoulder and elbow eventually make it very difficult to bear weight.
Tricep tendinitis can usually be relieved by resting the arm for several days, using ice packs, and taking over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs. Tendon and muscle fibers generally heal quickly when they have time to rest. Once the arm starts feeling better, a person can perform light stretching exercises to rebuild flexibility and strength. Wraps and braces are available at most pharmacies to provide extra support and protection for the elbow when returning to activity.
A tricep injury can also occur if the arm is suddenly subjected to a large amount of force. Trying to lift heavy weights, falling awkwardly on the arm, and overstretching to reach an object may all result in a tricep muscle or tendon tear. Most tears cause immediate, debilitating pain and swelling. It is important to try to immobilize a hurt arm until a doctor can inspect the injury.
In a doctor's office or emergency room, a physician can provide pain medication and take imaging scans of the arm. If a tear is discovered, the doctor can consider a few different options for treatment. Relatively small tears may repair themselves with several weeks of rest and medications. A severe tricep injury, however, often requires surgery to prevent long-term problems. If surgery is necessary, a patient can expect to spend one to six months in physical therapy to regain full strength and range of motion.