Can't bend elbow or touch shoulder from Judo arm bars

by Chris

Hi. About 3 months ago I noticed that I could not touch my shoulders anymore after a Judo practice.

I chalked this up to just overuse and arm bars and figured it would go away on it's own like normal.

So after noticing that after a month it wasn't getting better I actually decided to back off from training 4x a week and let it rest over the holiday season (about 1 week totally off then next 2 weeks going easy).

(I did the quick response thing too so hopefully this is the right process. )

During that time treatments I've done have been the following:

-Anti Inflammatory
-Foam Rolling (Seemed to help the most)

The healing from that I would say got me about 80% back to normal.

My right arm i can now touch my shoulder and almost straighten however my left arm I can not touch my shoulder and still not straighten.

So taking the next steps I went to a sports Dr which he did an ultra sound and an X-ray on my left elbow as his thought was it's a 'Mechanical Blockage'.

Ultra sound showed fluid in the joint and potential bone spurs however once i did the x-ray he thought maybe a cyst inside my elbow and recommended me to go talk to a surgeon.

This just didn't make sense to me as if it was a 'Mechanical issue' how could my condition vary on getting better/worse with treatment and activity?

Some of my friends are in the PT area and have expressed theories of bicept/tricept tendentious and everything else as to keeping me for full extension or bending.

I'm at a loss here as to what I should be trying to focus on. Last thing I want is to even think about surgery esp if it's only a guess.

Additional conditions that I have noticed:

-bicepts are sore closer to the shoulder (aligned with thumb side)

-Forearms get tired very quickly when typing

-When trying to force my elbow bent i feel the pressure (not sharp pain) in the middle and on the triceps side of my elbow

-When trying to force my
elbow straight pain occurs on the elbow (similar to a Arm Lock/ Arm Bar feeling)

General Stats about me:
-late 20's
-Athletic shape
-Eat's decently balanced (little junk food)


Joshua Answers:

Hi Chris.

Yes, you did the Quick Response correctly.

Thanks for the details. A couple clarifying questions:

1. By 'I can't touch the shoulder' I think you mean that you can't bend your elbow/do a bicep curl such that your fingers touch your shoulder (as compared to, say, reaching across your chest with your right hand to touch your left shoulder).

2. From the xrays, your doctor 'thinks' there's a mechanical blockage? Did he actually see anything on the xray to confirm that? Or as you said, is he just guessing, because the xray didn't show anything but you still can't fully bend/straighten your arm?

It sounds like he didn't see enough of anything to explain your scenario and was theorizing.

3. So for both arms you can't fully bend the elbow/arm, and you can't fully straighten the elbow/arm?

4. How bad is the pain? What exactly hurts, and what exactly causes pain? It sounds like it only hurts at the far end of bending/straightening.

And what does 'in the middle' mean, exactly?

5. What exactly did you foam roll and massage?

6. "Last thing I want is to even think about surgery esp if it's only a guess. "


I'm pretty sure I know what you have going on, but answer the above just for fun.

Please reply using the comment link below. Do not submit a new submission to answer/reply, it's too hard for me to find where it's supposed to go.

And, comments have a 3,000 character limit so you may have to comment twice.

Joshua Tucker, B.A., C.M.T.
The Tendonitis Expert

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Comments for Can't bend elbow or touch shoulder from Judo arm bars

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Sep 11, 2020
by: Anonymous

Thank you for writing this! Huge help!

Feb 02, 2017
OP Response 1
by: Chris

Hi Josh just a quick clarification: This isn't from arm bars we don't do them that often and don't crank them (apply intense pressure). Since Judo is all about grip fighting while standing up and trying to throw your opponent your arms are constantly flexed.

1. Yes same arm same shoulder

2. X-ray showed nothing only ultra sound indicated a 'black region' which they thought was fluid.

3. Yes though my left is worse than my right.

4. This is correct pain does not exist until i try to bend or straighten past my current range of motion.

By middle i mean if you follow the Ulna down to the tip of the elbow.

5. Foam roll i do my forearms, triceps, biceps, and peck minors.

6. Yes no surgery


Joshua Comments:

Hi Chris.

Fair point about the arm bars. I imagine they're used a lot less in Judo than MMA and jujitsu, depending. me work arm bars in anyway!

As you say, in Judo your arms are constantly flexed, there's lots of near constant grip, pushing and pulling, which activates all the muscles involved in the motion of resisting an arm bar.

The actions involved in getting arm barred/resisting arm bars can hurt an elbow in two ways both short term/long term:

1. Direct joint damage

2. Reduction in function of soft tissue structures (muscles).


Elbow extends to far and that damages the joint and/or ligaments holding the joint together.

We all know that one. But what we don't see when that happens is the muscles and connective tissue not only overlengthen, but in response to that they contract tight. And stay tight.

Tight muscles compress joints.

You don't have to be getting arm barred to have this tightness developing over time/use.


Obviously cranking an elbow joint too far is problematic. To at least a small degree that has happened to anybody that's experienced any number of arm bars.

But, society trains us to think that if there's pain or problem there must be 'injury'. As in, rip, tear, crunch/crush damage.

But one can have disabling pain with zero amount of damage.

For instance, you mentioned 'healing' in your description.

Did you 'heal'? Only if you were injured.

While your joint has likely, over time, taken some punishment, the more likely explanation for your lack of range of motion with pain at the endranges is 'Loss Of Function'.


- your muscles are too tight

- your connective tissue in and around those muscles is too short/tight

- you are short of specific nutrition so your muscles et al can't function properly

- your too tight structures aren't/can't absorb force like they're supposed to..that force has to go somewhere

- your too tight muscles/connective tissue don't lengthen enough to allow your elbow to extend/open fully and when you hit the end of mobility the tightness compresses your elbow

- your too tight muscles/connective tissue don't lengthen enough to allow your elbow to flex/close fully (to touch your shoulder) and when you hit the end of mobility the tightness compresses your elbow

In other words, you've done a ton of pushing/pulling with your arms, along the way muscles/structures have become too tight, they're stuck tight for a variety of reasons, and now you're finally noticing it.

And you notice things aren't working right. They aren't.

Are you injured? Is there somethign to heal? Probably not.

But the focus here is on the concept of 'not working right'. If things aren't working right, obviously things aren't going to work right.

Which is different than 'There is an injury so things can't work right'.

* To you or anybody else in your scenario, it would be wise to avoid armbars, because you can't even get your arm straight by yourself, and if somebody else forces those structures that don't let your elbow joint go to 180 degrees to go to 180're not going to like it (either immediately or soon thereafter).

Imagine me putting your elbow at 90 degrees, and then tightly wrapping you in a cast of saran wrap. And then forcing your arm straight.

Kind of like that.

1. I wouldn't worry about the fluid or potential bone spurs (which you're unlikely to actually have). They're symptoms of a problem, so fix the problem.

2. The problem is you're stuck tight which causes poor function (which causes progressive tightness and progressive decrease in function).

3. I suggest my Reversing Bicep Tendonitis program.

It covers the nutrition required to get out of pain/for muscles to be able to relax, and the best manual self care to decrease pain and open up too tight structures.

You don't have biceps tendonitis per se but all the same factors are involved (tendonitis is a dynamic of multiple factors at play...nutrition, tightness, etc).

You can reverse those factors and get back to pain free/full range activities. Rest, anti-inflammatories, etc, aren't going to do it, as you've noticed (because they don't accurately nor effectively target all the factors).

Feel free to ask questions etc,

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