Golfers, or climbers elbow (medial epicondylitis) is a common occurrence among climbers. When climbing hard I can develop a debilitating pain in my inner elbows if I have had more than a weeks rest or if I have been training intensively for long periods. If ignored for too long this can become chronic with more permanent pain symptoms, which may stop you from climbing completely. The painful precise ache is caused by inflammation of the medial epicondyle. This point of the elbow is where all of the pronators of the forearm and finger flexors insert.
There is a lot of information on medial epicondylitis out there, along with many physiotherapists who can treat more serious cases. I want to share with you briefly a few of the most effective exercises that help eliminate the elbow pain I develop when it does arise. Take a look at this short video –
- Basic strengthening of forearm extensors
- Slow bicep curl (light weight) with forearm extension at 90 degrees palm up (important bit)
- Forearm pronation (weight inwards) and supernation (weight outwards). Pronation is best for treating tennis elbow but you might as well do both while you’re at it!
- Flexor extension palm inwards
- Flexor extension palm down
You might notice that all of these exercises, bar the first one, involve muscle extension under a light/medium weight or resistance. This is called an eccentric exercise. As soon as I feel the onset of climbers elbow, (which can be quite sudden) I immediately lower the intensity of my climbing, climb more statically and reduce contact forces. I will then immediately start a short and progressive routine of these kind of exercises every day, or at least every after every climbing session. How much you can afford to climb gently on top of these kind of exercises depends on the severity of the injury.
It’s not surprising that climbers elbow flares up after extended rest or heavy training. You get excited and try to climb as you could before when your muscles and tendons are not acclimatised. Or similarly, repetitive stress on muscle and tendons without appropriate injury avoidance measures leaves you in need of rest and re-balancing.
I have found that at least a week of routine exercises followed by a short period of full rest is enough to relieve symptoms in most cases if caught early. If after this you return to climbing but still find more powerful moves aggravating, back off once again and repeat the cycle. Patience is important – climbers elbow can completely disappear as fast as it crept up on you! When symptoms alleviate and you return to full climbing routine, make sure you keep up a good level of these preventative exercises to keep elbow pain at bay.
Other things that help prevent elbow troubles and injury:
- Lots of press ups
- Power fingers
- Warming up properly
- A good routine of climbing specific stretches
- NOT GETTING FRUSTRATED – know when to back off
For more serious cases see a professional. But you should be back to climbing hard and doing more powerful moves soon. Look after your elbows and they will look after you.