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Can’t Straighten Your Arm After Workout? Learn How To Fix It

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Natasha Caleel post Reviewer Natasha Caleel post Reviewer
Verified by Natasha Caleel
MS in Occupational Therapy, BS in Kinesiology, Certified Corrective Exercise Specialist, CrossFit Level 1 Coach

Table of Contents

If you struggle to use your arms properly after exercise— here’s why you can’t straighten your arm after hard workouts and how to fix it.

Sometimes an intense upper-body workout can leave the arms and biceps feeling fatigued, but have you experienced problems straightening your arms? Famous DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) can make it harder to move limbs post-workout,  but soreness is all part of the natural healing process.

There are other causes responsible for arm pain worth looking at. Find out why you can’t straighten your arm after workouts, how long it lasts, and how to get rid of it.

Why You Can’t Straighten Your Arm After a Workout

Several potential causes could limit arm movement post-workout:

  • New workouts or exercise
  • You’re a beginner
  • Increasing volume, reps, sets, or load too quickly
  • Overdoing isolation exercises
  • Change in tempo or TUT (time under tension)
  • Overuse and lack of rest
  • Poor range of motion.

Is it Normal?

Yep, after excessive pulling exercises and bicep curls, muscles micro-tear — a form of muscle damage is normal.

During sleep, rest, and recovery, your body releases growth hormone (GH) [1] to help repair, adapt, and build muscle — but not during workouts. That achy pain the next day? As we mentioned, it’s called DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness), and it’s common. After a few days, that pain should subside.

During a bicep curl, the bicep muscles are worked in isolation much harder than during compound (multi-muscle) exercises like rowing. If you’re not used to it, the muscles can get tight and core, so there’s no surprise you can’t straighten your arm after the workout. Pain and swelling will make that harder.

Regular exercisers might not experience DOMS as severely as beginners, but a change of routine or introduction of new exercises can increase the likelihood of DOMS occurring.

How Long Does it Last?

DOMS can take several days to subside. Most people report day two post workout as the most intense period. Schedule rest and recovery days and avoid overusing the same muscles. Consider adding gentle movement and stretching to your routine, which should help your body heal and reduce inflammation. 

If symptoms persist, visit your doctor.

What You Can Do to Relieve Muscle Tension

If you experience muscle pain, inflammation, and soreness, here are a few ways to relieve symptoms.

Pain Relievers

This should be a temporary solution rather than taking them daily to relieve discomfort. If you keep experiencing pain and tenderness, visit your doctor to rule out underlying problems like muscle tear or tendonitis. 

Warm Up and Cool Down

Use dynamic exercises to warm the muscles before workouts, focusing on the ones you plan to use. After, try gentle stretching exercises to ease tension, increase mobility and improve the range of motion in the area, which should help relax your arm muscles. 

Keep Moving

Doing nothing is likely to cause muscles to seize up. Add restorative exercises like aerobic activity, walking, or yoga. This will also help maintain consistency even when your body is sore. Consistency with your workouts is crucial for building and maintaining healthy and strong joints and muscles, and gentle exercise is much better than no exercise at all.

It sounds counterintuitive, but regular exercise and weight training could ease the severity of DOMS and decrease pain in the days following your workout. [2] The research tells us that this analgesic effect could be temporary, so reducing intensity one to two days after could also help. [3] 

Rest and Recovery

Make sure to take enough rest between sets and avoid over-exercising by scheduling yourself enough rest days between intense strength training workouts. If you enjoy exercising daily, add variation to your routine by focusing on different muscle groups or exercise types instead. Three days in a row of bicep workouts or dumbbell push workouts isn’t a good idea.

Practice Proper Form

Can’t bend your arms after workouts? Poor form and range of motion could be the cause. Pay close attention to your form, use a full range of motion, and move with control during the eccentric phase of a movement — when the muscle lengthens under tension — like lowering your hand during a bicep curl. That’s when you’re more likely to strain a muscle. [4] [5]

Improper form can also cause other muscles to overwork and place undue stress on the joints, which can impair mobility and build poor movement patterns.

Do You Need to Change Your Workout If You Have Bicep Pain After?

If you experience bicep pain and can’t straighten your arms after workouts (and you still want to work out during this time), consider cardio, leg workouts, or a light chest workout instead.

As mentioned, muscle overuse inflames the tissue of the muscles and joints, creating stiffness, especially in repetitive heavy weightlifting. To prevent overuse, remember to mobilize muscles gently and gradually increase the intensity with a well-designed warmup, which increases blood flow and nutrient and oxygen delivery around the body, helping you continue workouts despite being sore.

When to See a Doctor

If you practice proper form, rest, and gradually increase exercise intensity, but symptoms aren’t improving, it could be time to visit your doctor. If pain occurs immediately or you can’t fully extend your arms after workouts for some time after, it could be a sign of muscle strain or tear. 

According to the Mayo Clinic, these are some symptoms to look out for [6]:

  • Swelling, bruising, redness, or tingling
  • Persistent limited range of motion in the arm joints
  • Localized pain around the joints
  • Muscle spasms
  • Weakness or shaking.

Boxing, high-impact exercise, and regular weight lifting are all stressors. 

If you experience tingling or pain that makes the arm hard to move, it could be a muscle strain or a nerve injury. Also, muscle tears can show up as intense, localized pain, weakness, or shaking and take a while to repair [7], so go easy, be patient, and reach out for rehabilitation advice. You can still treat some ailments with the age-old RICE approach — rest, ice, compression, and elevation. 

Too much stress, force, and lack of rest also cause tissue to swell or bruise. Damage to muscle fibers shows up as muscle pain rather than tender joints. Again, a medical professional can diagnose and recommend the proper treatment.

Wrapping Up

  • High impact, overuse, heavy lifting or strain can cause bicep pain after workouts.
  • Inflammation and soreness (DOMS) are normal after intense exercise and can be uncomfortable for a few days; this usually disappears on its own and is nothing to worry about.
  • Prolonged pain, weakness, numbness, tingling or extreme pain could indicate a significant injury. If this occurs, visit a medical professional.
  • Consider adjusting your workout. Keep moving, and add gentle stretching and recovery to improve blood flow and improve range of motion.
  • Slowly build intensity so that muscles can adapt, recover and grow over time.
Disclaimer This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!

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