Everyone may have experienced pain at the back of their upper arms that could have resulted from a triceps strain. A triceps strain is damage to the large muscles known as the triceps brachii, which lies at the back of the upper arm opposite the biceps muscles.

The strain is a result of the tearing of the muscles anywhere in the triceps. The most common location of the tear is along the area where the triceps muscles and the tendon meet either in the elbow joint or the shoulder joint.

The managements for a triceps strain are similar to the treatments of any type of muscle strain; however, the level of treatment is usually based on the grade of the triceps strain. Triceps strain can be classified into grade 1, grade 2 and grade 3 injuries.

Grade 1

Grade 1 triceps strain is the mildest form of triceps injury, which only involves the over stretching of the muscle. There can be inflammation and pain although only minimal and does not result to loss of function or strength.

Grade 2

A grade 2 triceps strain may involve some forms of tearing in the muscle fibers in the triceps brachii. The tear can be located on the junction of the muscle and tendon, which produces some weakness on the affected arm.

Grade 3 

The most severe grade of a triceps strain involves the separation of the muscle fibers that can lead to a complete rupture of the triceps brachii. With a grade 3 injury, the rupture may result in the complete disconnection of the muscle and tendon from attaching bone leading to complete loss of function of the affected arm.

The treatments for these various grades of triceps strain depend on the severity of the injury. For grade 1 and grade 2 injuries, more conservative approaches are involved to ensure maximum recovery. Conservative managements involve:

  • Cold compress

The application of cold in the affected muscle helps in reducing inflammation and swelling. Cold compress can be applied for at most 20 minutes over the injured muscles thrice a day until inflammation and swelling subsides. Cold compress also reduces the anaerobic metabolism within the affected muscle; thereby, limiting pain on the site.

  • Warm packs

The application of warm packs may help reduce pain on the affected site. However, make sure to employ warm compress when swelling has already subsided because using warm packs earlier can lead to further arm swelling.

  • Use of an arm sling

Using an arm sling relieves tension on the tendon, which prevents further injury to the torn soft tissues. It is very imperative that arm slings are used because allowing the arm to freely move can contribute to more severe tear on the triceps muscle.

  • Use of anti-inflammatory medicines

To serve as an adjunct to the above therapies, anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen are used to relieve plain faster.

Mild conditions may recover for at most a week. For more severe cases, longer recovery time is needed and more aggressive approaches are employed such as:

  • Physical therapy

Grade 3 triceps strain is usually managed through physical therapy. It may include exercises to help the muscles become more flexible.

  • Surgery

Surgery is only performed when the triceps are torn or ruptured that led to the disconnection form the bone. Surgery is the last resort for a triceps strain and other measures are first employed.

Milder cases can be managed at home, but if severe injury is suspected, immediate medical attention is warranted.