I am a 46 (soon to be 47 year old!) powerlifter. In my two most recent competitions I benched 500 lbs. (equipped). I had several cortisone shots over the past two years and the pain continued…on March 30th I tore the tricep tendon. On April 13th I had reattachment surgery. I have a couple questions…I was told 6-8 months before I can even think about light lifting- is this true? I was also told that I would never be able to compete again and never be able to lift as heavy or the same way that I did in the past. Do you have any thoughts on these statements? Any suggestions? Thanks so much for your help!
Let me tell you first of all, longevity is at the top of my list when it comes to decisions I am making in the gym (so is sexiness, but that does not apply to this topic). So, consider what you need for life functioning and adjust accordingly.
Both Jill Mills and I were benching 185 after ten weeks. I didn’t do much of anything for 6 weeks. Generally, it takes a tendon 6 weeks to heal into the bone. But, I think tricep is so vulnerable being on the outside of a pointy joint.
Here is how it will go. You will get doctors advise, but you will go by how well you know your body anyway. It will come naturally when you choose limits and risks. I was doing isometric contractions early on, light in the beginning.
Good luck, fellow powerlifter. May the force be with you!!
(PS use the topics to the right and search for “tricep” blogs. I wrote a two day blog on my injuries and recovery decisions)
Well, it is no surprise to me that I have had three torn tendons. You can not train to be the strongest woman in the world without something to show for it. ;)
For some time, even before I benched 600 lbs in March of 2008, my triceps tendon had been bothering me… that is an understatement. Even two years after I retired from heavy lifting, I was in PAIN!! The very tip of my elbow hurt when I lifted and when I slept and when I trained for pro-wrestling. I couldn’t flex my biceps with out feeling the pain. And when I accidentally hit it on something… Oh, man, TERRIBLE PAIN! I was in constant pain for about 3 years.
The chiropractor said I likely had tendinosis, which is the stage after tendinitis. The tendon is shredded and it is not reversible. But, I continued to lift, though much lighter than normal as the pain limited my strength.
Then back in June of 2010, I traveled to San Diego to visit a friend. We went to World’s Gym, a great facility. However, I chose a crappy bench with a shallow hook and a deadlift bar on it (thinner in circumference). I was slowly progressing in warm-ups. I had 185 lbs on the bar, banged out a set of 8 repetitions. When I went to rack the bar, the right side (my already painful side) bounced off the back of the upright and I missed the hook. The left side hooked and the rights side of the bar came down toward my head. I pushed it away from head, weights slid off the bar and went crashing to the ground. Drawing the attention of the entire gym. Embarrassing!
Nothing hurt, I felt just fine. But, I knew it… I think I tore my triceps tendon. I had seen it happen about three times. The elbow bends in an awkward way and then you fire the muscle asking it to do something for which it has not prepared. I looked in the mirror about 5 minutes later. It seemed my triceps were firing as normal, but the swelling above my elbow was a clear indication I had torn my triceps tendon off the bone.
I am FORTUNATE!! Fortunate in two ways, it was the crappy tendon that tore and I am about to get a fresh tendon connection. Thank goodness. That was the end of a long era of pain.
I had surgery a week later to reattach my triceps tendon. Basically, they nailed the tendon back on to the tip of my elbow. And man it hurt! Now, I will speak of both biceps and triceps reattachment surgeries and recoveries.
The biceps reattachment hurt way less, even though they drill holes in outside of your forearm bone to loop the Kevlar stitching through. I woke up from from the biceps surgery with a pain level of 4, zero being no pain and 10 being the worst pain ever. From that moment forward, I was a 2 in pain level. I only took pain killers for two days. Easy, easy injury and recovery.
The triceps tendon surgery hurt a lot more. I woke up with a pain level of 8 and finished my pain killer prescription. I can only guess that the biceps tendon surgery hurt way less because you heal with your arm bent, shortening the tendon, less tension. After the triceps tendon surgery, I was at about 120 degrees extension (3/4 the way to a straight arm). So, the triceps tendon is pulled on a bit.
I did not go to physical therapy for my triceps tendon recovery at all. I feel I know my body and its limits. So, here is what I did… not a recommendation, but my experience.
I left the splint on for about 5 days. After that, while I was sitting at home, I would take the splint off and let my arm move about just a little bit, not forcing anything. The brace was on and off all day long, but always on if I left the house. I would always sleep with the brace on, I did that for about 4 weeks, then I used just the ace bandages for a couple more weeks.
I called a good friend, Jill Mills, who had torn her tricep two years earlier. She suggested isometric contractions. So, I did; keep my arm in one position and flexed, held it, then relaxed… over and over.
One week after surgery, I started lifting all other parts of my body. I still had staples in and I would do front squats with as much weight as I could with one arm (see the video). I would train my good side at about 75%. It did get bigger than the surgery side, and people could tell when I pointed it out. I didn’t care. I had always heard, train what you can while you are healing. The body releases growth hormone to heal bilaterally, so it assists in your surgery side healing.
After a couple weeks, I started pushing the extension of my arm a bit. I would also lean against a table in a push-up position requiring my triceps tendon to fire and hold some weight. I think you have to watch out for scar tissue build up. If you don’t move your tendon enough, the scar tissue will bind it and limit your movement. Remember, they reattach tendons with Kevlar wire. That connection is not going anywhere unless you REALLY do something wrong.
It takes 6 weeks for a tendon to heal into the bone. So, after about 5 weeks, I started benching lightly. It felt good, so I trusted the process. Jill had also mentioned she was benching 185 lbs after about 8 weeks… game on. That is not advice, it is a challenge, lol!! And so I did bench 185 lbs after 8 weeks and it felt good. Other things did not feel so good. I would do overhead triceps extensions with 3 lb dumbbells, rotating my arm after each 3 reps as to stretch the tendon in different positions. It took me a long time to move up in weight, and there is no hurry.
Today, six months later, I forget my triceps tendon was injured. The only time I feel it is when I try to rest my elbow on a table or when I am using it to dig into someone in jiu jitsu class. There is a nail or a knot at the tip of my elbow another about an inch and a half up the tendon.
These experiences are priceless! On one more note, I was sort of feeling helpless after my triceps tendon surgery. So, I proved to myself I was NOT by going to Habitat for Humanity. I could only sweep and caulk, but I handle the caulk like a champ
Well, here is some news, not so great. But, challenges happen and life moves forward. We all grow and adjust. I am moving forward, we all are. The video is a bit choppy near the end, as it was a phone video.
Keep checking in to see some clips from Strongest Ever, a documentary about my life and lifting. The clip highlights Dr. Marshall Jacobs discussing the stress my body endured as I was in peak training as the strongest woman in the world.
Then, I will post a video of me getting my staples taken out… Just for FUN!!
This WEEK has been crazy! I am living it up in Eldon, MO as it is my last weekend to party it up before I move. I went out on Monday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and I am heading out tonight. EIKS, going to have to burn the extra calories off!
Here is what I did for Tris and Bis yesterday:
Overhead Cable Skull Krushers (elbows up really high)
Kick Backs with a rope on the low cable
Straight Bar Curl
Incline DB Curl
Hammer Curl w curl bar
I have a video about Incline DB Curls I will post later tonight. Come back and check it out!