Climber’s Elbow

Elbows are often a source of complaint from climbers as we subject them to abuse day in and out on the wall and on the rock.

Disclaimer: We are climbers, not doctors or physical therapists. The information below comes from reputable sources but we in no way guarantee accuracy or efficacy

Diagnosis

Climbers with elbow issues from climbing will generally feel pain on the inside of the elbow, the medial epicondyle, a lump that connects a number of tendons related to flexion as well as pronation of the hand.

This type of condition is commonly referred to as “Golfer’s Elbow” and is what this article will address.

Tennis elbow(pain in the lateral  epicondyle) has been known to occur in climbers to a lesser extent, but as it is a condition of the extensors, is generally thought of as not directly related to climbing. If you have a case of tennis elbow, we suggest searching other reputable sources. We hear appropriate eccentric exercises are effective as well.

Climbing Style Matters

A climbing style which heavily relies on the arms to actuate movement and hold bodyweight will place tremendous stress on the elbows(as well as shoulders). Frequent locking off with weight mostly on the arms, campus-style movements, and initiating movement in the upper body — “pulling yourself up” with the arms, as opposed to pushing yourself up with the feet, will unduly stress the elbows

Suggestion

Learn to climb with controlled momentum, keeping arms straight whenever possible.

Aim to generate movement from the legs with  the lower body doing most of the work and holding most of the weight.

This does not mean wildly dynoing for each hold, which would be counterproductive, but rather to use the right amount of momentum to carry your body through the move, deadpoint style, rather than lifting yourself with the arms or excessively locking off in a static style.

Eccentric Exercises

The theory behind Eccentric exercises is that they strengthen the affected tendons.

These exercises are relatively new to the climbing world and have only recently been recommended by prominent coaches/physicians. The mechanism is not fully understood, but clinical trials as well as anecdotal evidence indicates eccentrics are quite effective for elbow issues.

Exercises addressing two variations of “golfer’s elbow” are presented – one addressing the flexor carpi ulnaris, and one addressing the pronator teres, as these are the most commonly seen issues with climbers elbow.

Eccentric Wrist Flexion
Theory

Rehabilitate the flexor carpi ulnaris(FCU)1

Exercise

Notes
It has been suggested that using a resistance that provokes slight to a very mild pain in the affected area may be the most effective.3

Eccentric Pronation 

Theory

Rehabilitate the pronator teres1

Exercises

Make sure your form and movement is correct – when in doubt check with a phsyio.  As with flexion, will provoke some mild pain – this is generally a good sign. Obviously if you feel anything sharp – lower the weight and reevaluate the form.
Sources and Suggested Reading
  1. Dodgy Elbows  - Dr. Julian Sanders
  2. Prevent Elbow and Shoulder Injuries – Dave Macleod for Climbing Magazine
  3. Golfers/Tennis Elbow Etc. – What Eccentrics do – Dave Macleod blog

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