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Swelling Problem After Pullups?

My arms have been swollen for three straight days and I’m concerned. Let me explain a bit.

I’ve been working out for about two years. I push myself pretty hard and consider myself to be in good to great shape. I recently changed up my workout routine to be more of a crossfit functional strength style. I decided to jump in on a routine I saw a while ago just scaled back to get a taste of it. I did 50 pull ups 50 push ups and 50 body weight squats. In a 10 rep per 5 round cycle. It did not seem too hard and I finished in under 6 minutes thinking to myself I could have done better.

Well 30 minutes later my arms did not want to work right. I thought man quite the workout. I dig it. My arms have not felt like this in a very long time. Well they ended up swelling by the end of the night and I didn’t get much sleep because of the pain. I’ve had soreness like this post workout maybe two other times in my life. It doesn’t feel like I pulled anything just strong post workout soreness. However it was never this fast…usually a day and a half post workout.

Since then two more days have past and today is the 3rd day. Th e pain is still there but it is nothing extreme and the swelling is actually worse than it was yesterday. I took measurements this morning and my arms are almost a full 2 inches bigger than normal. I have to force my arms to straighten and I can barely touch the top of my head when I bend my arms. I’m walking around with L arms. I get some strange looks…haha.

Has anybody had this problem? Should I go see my doc?

Something gave out…Go see a dr. now.

PAT36…Thanks for the quick response. I was not wanting to hear that though…haha.

Doing pullups can put allot of stress on your bicep/arm tendons, even if its wide grip with palms facing away from you.

Maybe your arms just arent used to that much stress…

My arm swells if I arm wrestle someone really strong so I figure it might work the same way, stop until the pains done tho.

I had the same problem years ago. After a lot of direct arm work and pull-ups my arms would swell around and above the elbow joint. Sometimes just one or the other, sometimes both. They would get very sore and stiff and everyday motions were painful deep inside near the joint. I found the only solution was backing off on the offending lifts. After slowly building up the joints, tendons and ligaments it’s never happened again. I did find I could still workout with the swelling and it seemed to help if I kept to light, high rep regimes.

I suggest you:

  1. Back off on the lifts that cause the problem.
  2. See a Dr. or physical therapist.
  3. Start taking fish oil (Flameout).
  4. Try some active release techniques (tennis ball, foam roller, ice cups, salt baths, etc.)

It sound like you’ve just overdone things and need recovery time but see a professional to be sure.

Thanks guys! I appreciate the advice. The pain is not bad at all right now. Minor pain. I just finished reading a study back in 1999 titled “Adverse events associated with eccentric exercise protocols: six case studies.” that sounds like people have had similar side effects when working with eccentric reps to failure. I did not focus mainly on negative reps but I did work to near failure. The study showed that swelling did not peak usually until day 3 or 5 and around the same time muscle pain was lower but range of motion was still limited due to swelling. Sounds very similar. It did say that in some cases the swelling can last up to 2 months. It said that urine is usually dark when this condition is diagnosed as a condition called Rhabdomyolysis. But not always. Thankfully my urine is fine and clear as of now but I will go in and have a test done. To see what is going on.

The workout the other night was not a hard workout in my opinion. I have done far harder and far more painful workouts. I just don’t get it really. I’m kind of in awe right now. I came into the workout with 3 days off. I usually do 1 to 2 days off so I was plenty rested. Just shoked.

For those that have had the swelling how long did it take until you were able to workout the elbow joint again?

Thanks guys for the posts and help!

[quote]risian wrote:
Thanks guys! I appreciate the advice. The pain is not bad at all right now. Minor pain. I just finished reading a study back in 1999 titled “Adverse events associated with eccentric exercise protocols: six case studies.” that sounds like people have had similar side effects when working with eccentric reps to failure. I did not focus mainly on negative reps but I did work to near failure. The study showed that swelling did not peak usually until day 3 or 5 and around the same time muscle pain was lower but range of motion was still limited due to swelling. Sounds very similar. It did say that in some cases the swelling can last up to 2 months. It said that urine is usually dark when this condition is diagnosed as a condition called Rhabdomyolysis. But not always. Thankfully my urine is fine and clear as of now but I will go in and have a test done. To see what is going on.

The workout the other night was not a hard workout in my opinion. I have done far harder and far more painful workouts. I just don’t get it really. I’m kind of in awe right now. I came into the workout with 3 days off. I usually do 1 to 2 days off so I was plenty rested. Just shoked.

For those that have had the swelling how long did it take until you were able to workout the elbow joint again?

Thanks guys for the posts and help!

[/quote]

I am less worried about pain than I am the swelling. That sounds a bit unusual. If you are swollen it’s because of tissue damage of some sort. It’s worth checking out. Steer clear of pullups for a while and see if that is not the cause. I got some miserable tendonitis doing weighted pullups, but I didn’t swell.
BTW, how did you manage the swelling? Swelling tends to cause even more damage, did you ice? Did you use ibuprofin? Any history of dislocation or shoulder injury of any kind?

At least get an xray…

[quote]risian wrote:
PAT36…Thanks for the quick response. I was not wanting to hear that though…haha. [/quote]

everything is fine! lollypops and rainbows! teehee!

Schultzie that is what I like to hear! Haha.

I actually have spent the whole afternoon researching this and I’m calling my doctors office at 2pm…they’re all out to lunch right now and seeing if they can get me in today. It sounds like I could have ended up doing some’n serioius to my body. I’m hoping I didn’t but the research is not looking good for me right now.

And PAT…I have been taking ibuprofin and icing it. That has not really helped much with the swelling…pretty much why I got on here and started doing some research.

-EDIT-
And PAT I forgot to add I have had no injuries to the shoulders or arms. I actually have never had any major injuries to any body part. Rolled a few ankles tweaked the back a few times but all minor stuff…that is about it.
-EDIT-

I also went to crossfit.com and I found an old link through search talking about swollen arms due to pullups. Just so happens Rhabdo was invovled…the same condition I mentioned above in a study I read…The one that got my attention was one that said they did 38 reverse pull ups in 2 minutes and that seemed to have been the cause. Her doctor diagnosed her with Rhabdomyolysis.

I did 50 pull ups as well as 50 push ups and 50 squats in 6 minutes…sounds similar. Plus my symptoms and time frame of swelling and pain matches perfectly with the information I found in the Rhabdo study. So I’m not too excited to head in to see my doctor. From the sounds of things on the forum over there it seems like several crossfitters have had the problem. Some worse than others.

I’m hoping I strained some things and it’s not Rhabdo…sounds like it takes months to rehab from it.

Thanks to everyone who have helped and those that continue to respond!

It is because you are so fit and strong and not used to that motion so since they were easy for you you moved faster putting more stress on the joints and tendons but they were at least at that angle at the beginer level while your muscles are strong so you probably just need to ice them and start slow and remember your performance on a new exercise will increase faster than your ability to resist injury on that exercise.

Similar things have happened to me I was working out like crazy super cardio and strength than I did wrestling which I hadn’t done in a while and did things my body wasn’t used to and screwed up all sorts or joints and stuff.

It’s because you switched to “Functional training” instead of using those useless dumbells and barbells.

Instamucsles come from pushups I hear…

I could not get in to see my doctor today. Got an appointment for the morning. I really don’t want to sit at the ER so I’m opting to wait. For all those that are interested I will post an update on what it is. This stuff is interesting to me so I’m sure there are a few here that would be interested as well.

DYLAN - I know what you mean about doing things you’re not used to. I take a martial art that my instructor teaches where he combines hap ki do and krav maga he calls it yakzir maka (started about a year ago) and it took a while for my body to adjust to the new tweaks I was putting myself through. I sure hope it’s just a tweak thing. However the movement is not new to me just the speed at which I did it was new. So I think you might have hit it on the head. I’m hoping.

FightnIrish - I don’t know if you were being sarcastic about dumbells being a waste of time or not but I am a functional fitness fanatic. I did not make it clear in my post I appologize…when I say I moved towards a crossfit style functional fitness I mean I moved from the functional fitness I was doing to more of a crossfit style routine. Where fitness is sport. Timed cycels and max loads and such.

I have trained for two years using kettlebells dumbells sandbags bands and many many body weight exercises such as pull ups push ups and so on. I actually use a lot of zach even esh’s philosophy when it comes to working out. He’s one of the guys that got me into functional training. I’ve been into kettlebells for quite some time Zach’s info just helped me transition more into a complete functional mindset.

Also how I found out about crossfit. But yeah it’s not a new thing to me. So I don’t think it’s as drastic of a change as it might sound from my first post. I am not picky…if it works I use it. If I’m getting bigger faster stronger I keep it.

I am not a body builder (I have nothing against that more power to you if you are! Takes a lot of hard work!)…I am an athletic conditioning kind of guy. I will admit if I have a weakness and I have many but the biggest weakness in function is my pull ups. And likely cause for the injury.

The routine just seemed so easy. It doesn’t make sense to me. I will know in the morning.

Thanks again guys…I’m going to update when I see my doctor tomorrow.

-Update-

Well I went in this morning and my doctor was not too concerned. A big reason is the swelling has gone down a bit since yesterday. She is checking me for rhabdo as well as other muscular complications like MS and so on.

She didn’t really have a clear answer as to what happened but she said it probably had to do with me taking 3 days off from working out so I came into the workout fully healed which allowed me to push it much harder without feeling as fatigued as I did in previous workouts. She also asked about my weight. Since she has seen a steady rise in my weight over the past 6 months. I’m about 15 lbs heavier than I was 6 months ago. I have been working on gaining weight and size. She thinks the extra weight might have played into it as well. I’m 225 now.

She said I need to really work on building muscle around the elbow joint. Do some really targeted exercises before I do workouts that include a lot of pull ups…or lose weight. She said she understands I’m working hard to gain muscle mass but she said I need to go easier for a while or drop a few pounds.

I will know more after the blood work. She has not ruled out rhabdo just yet.

Doctors never seemed to concerned…It’s how my daughter ended up with pneumonia…“It’s just a virus…” They’d say. I have never heard of a virus lasting for 6 weeks and if we hadn’t been aggressive, she could have been hospitalized or worse…Anyhow, at least you got blood work done.

Did she propose any theories on “how to build muscle around the elbow”? Somebody who knows anatomy as well as a dr. should know that how close your muscles are to your joints are not up to you. Particularly, since this is more the realm of connective tissue.

My fear is that you have, circulation issues, bones spurs, or soft tissue injury.

Take slo-niacin for circulation issues. You need to work on your mobility. If you aren’t injured or sick, you probably suffer from poor mobility.

Yeah she meant that I need to do more targeted work that requires bending of the elbow joint. Since I do functional strength training I almost never do bicep work. The majority of my bicep work comes indirectly from things like pull ups reverse grip and over hand grip and so on. She said I might want to do curls and many variations of them. But I think she is convinced I pushed it too hard and over extending the joints in both arms.

-EDIT- She also said to do triceps work directly as well as forearms. She actually teased me and gave me a hard time about my forearms. She said for a guy as fit as you those forearms sure are petite. I’ve spent a lot more time searching through crossfit’s forum and it seems like the swelling of the arms is a lot more common than I thought. They even had a full issue of one of their crossfit journals dedicated to rhabdo. I found about 15 different posts talking about swelling of the arms and/or rhabdo.

I am on blood pressure medication. Have been for a little less than a year. It’s been determined a genetic thing. I’m 26 years old and 11 percent body fat and I have to medicate my blood pressure. It drives me crazy! But I say that because I do lots of lab work because of that. So I know I don’t have circulation issues since that is well tested and checked on. How do I get her to check for tissue injury and such? What is the process? What is the downside if it is tissue damage? I’m just really worried about down time. I’ve been really pushing strength and size and seeing great results…to have to drop down in weight and intensity is such a let down.

But like I said I will know more after blood work and hope to rule rhabdo out for sure!

My elbows swell when I do a lot of pullups, in fact I’m convinced they were the main causal fact or myt elbow arthritis.

Good thing you went in - doesn’t sound like you have the best doc, but at least she will make sure that you don’t die. I’d still be worried about non-muscle damage. Take it very easy the next few workouts and see if any more problems arise. If so, I’d ask to see a sports medicine specialist. If she needs to see you again - ask tons of questions, and demonstrate what you know (use correct medical terms). Ask which specific muscles, tendons and ligaments could be damaged. Most people have no idea what a tendon or ligament actually is - but a lot of people can google “swollen arms” and find rhabdo. You’re less likely to get the brush off if you know what you’re talking about.

But then again, if it doesn’t hurt much again you should be good to go.

[quote]risian wrote:
Yeah she meant that I need to do more targeted work that requires bending of the elbow joint. Since I do functional strength training I almost never do bicep work. The majority of my bicep work comes indirectly from things like pull ups reverse grip and over hand grip and so on. She said I might want to do curls and many variations of them. But I think she is convinced I pushed it too hard and over extending the joints in both arms.

-EDIT- She also said to do triceps work directly as well as forearms. She actually teased me and gave me a hard time about my forearms. She said for a guy as fit as you those forearms sure are petite. I’ve spent a lot more time searching through crossfit’s forum and it seems like the swelling of the arms is a lot more common than I thought. They even had a full issue of one of their crossfit journals dedicated to rhabdo. I found about 15 different posts talking about swelling of the arms and/or rhabdo.

I am on blood pressure medication. Have been for a little less than a year. It’s been determined a genetic thing. I’m 26 years old and 11 percent body fat and I have to medicate my blood pressure. It drives me crazy! But I say that because I do lots of lab work because of that. So I know I don’t have circulation issues since that is well tested and checked on. How do I get her to check for tissue injury and such? What is the process? What is the downside if it is tissue damage? I’m just really worried about down time. I’ve been really pushing strength and size and seeing great results…to have to drop down in weight and intensity is such a let down.

But like I said I will know more after blood work and hope to rule rhabdo out for sure![/quote]

Hypertension at your age?! Yikes! That certainly can be playing a part in it, either the medication or the cause of your hypertension.

As far as muscle imbalances, while, not the cause of the swelling, in my opinion, it can certainly aggravate the situation. You should make it a priority to correct those.

Stay away from pull-ups for a while. While I think they are an important exercise, they also seem to be the source of a lot of injuries.

UPDATE

Well swelling in arms just about gone.

HOWEVER

Fatigue has set in. I feel much better today than I did the last two days. I can actually open a bottle without help again!

The bad news…

My lab work came back. My CPK levels are over 20,000. I was told that because of my medication and my fitness level I would be high…but the number my doctor would accept was anything up to 2,500 as normal. Well I’m 17,500 higher than that so she wants to talk to me but she is running it by a couple of her colleagues and will call me back.

It has to do with my kidney and heart function being normal and my blood pressure medication can actually be considered a treatment for you guessed it rhabdo. Which she now, given the 20,000 plus cpk reading, has changed her mind on.

So I will most likely be in to see her tonight. If I can’t make it I will be in to see her tomorrow morning.

Lessons learned…

The body most definitely has a limit. It does not matter how conditioned you are…the breaking point wins. For me…this time…it was not that hard to reach. I guess I’m trying to say I have been humbled. I’m not the hardcore sandbag destroying bulletproof machine I thought I was.

Yet again I will know more in the coming days.

[quote]risian wrote:
UPDATE

Well swelling in arms just about gone.

HOWEVER

Fatigue has set in. I feel much better today than I did the last two days. I can actually open a bottle without help again!

The bad news…

My lab work came back. My CPK levels are over 20,000. I was told that because of my medication and my fitness level I would be high…but the number my doctor would accept was anything up to 2,500 as normal. Well I’m 17,500 higher than that so she wants to talk to me but she is running it by a couple of her colleagues and will call me back.

It has to do with my kidney and heart function being normal and my blood pressure medication can actually be considered a treatment for you guessed it rhabdo. Which she now, given the 20,000 plus cpk reading, has changed her mind on.

So I will most likely be in to see her tonight. If I can’t make it I will be in to see her tomorrow morning.

Lessons learned…

The body most definitely has a limit. It does not matter how conditioned you are…the breaking point wins. For me…this time…it was not that hard to reach. I guess I’m trying to say I have been humbled. I’m not the hardcore sandbag destroying bulletproof machine I thought I was.

Yet again I will know more in the coming days.[/quote]

Holyshit! Not good. Take it easy and drink a lot and see you you can purge those toxins…I wonder if taking creatine would help or make it worse, since one of the issues is ATP depletion? Anyhow, get it fixed.
You’re problem isn’t a “limit” it’s that you have a condition. And nobody is bullet proof, we are all one injury away from being sedintary blobs.