What's about rock climbing is making my elbow hurt?
May 22, 2007 5:55 PM   Subscribe

I've gotten into rock climbing (indoor rock walls), and I'm starting to experience some elbow pain.

Here's what happens: I climb (currently I can comfortably climb most 5.9 walls and some 5.10A walls), and after three or four walls, my elbows hurt- specifically on the sides of the elbows, both arms. I have been climbing for about two months, and I go between once a week and three times a week.

A brief bout of googling reveals that I most probably have this going on.

Is this a chronic condition or is it something that will go away as I continue climbing and get in better shape? What can I change to prevent injury?
posted by tumbleweedjack to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Aka, tennis elbow. Here is more information on the condition and some exercises to help alleviate it. I tend to favor physical therapy approaches over meds and surgery, but as a rock climber who doesn't get much time on the wall anymore, I would probably take ibuprofen beforehand and watch my grips while climbing to avoid poor form. Rest and the mild exercises listed above will help a lot (IANAD, etc....).
posted by cocoagirl at 6:17 PM on May 22, 2007

My climber friend in college had similar problems. He'd take lots of ibuprofen and ice it often, but he kept climbing and so it never got any better. Finally he got too busy with end of term papers and finals and took a few weeks off climbing. Giving himself a chance to heal up made all the difference. The problem went away and didn't escalate to previous levels as he eased back in to climbing as long as he was careful and gave himself a rest if he felt another bout coming on.
posted by Good Brain at 7:05 PM on May 22, 2007

You might also want to ask at your gym about clinics on technique. Spending some time focusing on grips, weight-shifting and using your legs more may help reduce the strain on your arms.
posted by weebil at 7:10 PM on May 22, 2007

I will be a doctor, and basically what cocoagirl said above. I didn't look at the exercises, but just rest the elbow from pain. Do exercises to increase it's strength though (haven't learned yet how to do that). But if it is what you googled, then it's plain case of tennis elbow. Do strengthening exercises to both arms, you'll be fine.

PS, I ain't a doc yet, so take as advice, and w/ caution.
posted by uncballzer at 7:14 PM on May 22, 2007

It's entirely technique. It's easy to pull yourself up the wall instead of doing it the right way, and since tendons take a hell of a lot longer to build (and heal) than muscle does, climbing tends to exacerbate this kind of thing.

If you're injured, take a break. Find a wise partner that can help with technique. Don't force a move if you're just going to brutalize it.

Are you climbing a lot of overhangs and bouldering-type routes? If so, try some slabby, balance-y stuff for a few weeks. Use your damned legs to rest.. don't hang on your arms. If your *legs* aren't sore, you're probably using your arms too much. Very typical mistake. :)
posted by kcm at 7:25 PM on May 22, 2007

Ditto what kcm said. Taking a break is probably a good idea. A week or two should be enough to fix your problem. Ice and ibuprofen will probably help too, but I think they just alleviate the symptoms, they don't really fix the underlying problem.

I've been climbing for about a year and a half, and I've had a couple of minor injuries like this. Although it sucks taking time off from climbing, it's better than having to quit for good because you kept going when you should have taken a break.
posted by number9dream at 8:40 PM on May 22, 2007

cocoagirl: I'll definitely work on those strengthening exercises, I think they'll help a lot.
weebil: my gym does have clinics, every week, and I will make it a priority to take them now.
kcm: I am doing a lot of overhangs, actually, which is when the elbow pain started, because I'm simply unable to use my legs as much and my upper body is not up to par.
everyone: thanks very much for all the advice, I really think it will be helpful both in fixing this elbow problem in general but also in improving my climbing in general.
posted by tumbleweedjack at 11:12 PM on May 22, 2007

I had this for a while as well when I was climbing. Glucosamine seemed to help, though it may have just been time since it went away eventually on its own.
posted by 0xFCAF at 11:33 PM on May 22, 2007

Epicondylitis is generally the result of muscle imbalances of the forearm and not indicative of bad technique. However, as a new climber, it is probably a given that you are neglecting your footwork and overusing your arms, which will only accelerate the problem.

You need to immediately address this with rest and icing until pain-free. Anti-inflammatories can help accelerate the recovery, but there is some evidence that NSAIDS (such as ibuprofen, naproxen, etc. inhibit the healing of connective tissue.) Other things that have mild anti-inflammatory properties are b-vitamins, omega-3 fatty acid supplements, and glucosamine (although this is not its primary purpose and would be expensive to take for only this property).

After a week or so start in with the stretches and exercises from cocoagirl's link (after a suitable warmup by exercise, shower, or heating pad). If these trigger the pain, stop and rest, or cut back on the exercise until pain free.

Eventually (another week or so) ease back into climbing, but continue with the stretches and exercise. You will probably need to cut back on the frequency a bit until you give your connective tissue time to catch up with your muscular development. You will also need to continue the exercises for as long as you are climbing.

Depending on how mild your condition is, you may be able to shorten the time windows described above. Let pain be your guide. But be warned, if you ignore the pain you will only set yourself up for an extended recovery period, and/or develop an acute and chronic condition.
posted by Manjusri at 12:44 AM on May 23, 2007

When you're resting, be sure to straighten your arms out. If they are bent when you're just holding yourself to the wall, you're doing unnecessary work and will get tired and sore earlier than you would if you keep your arms straight.

You already seem to be pretty knowledgeable as to keeping your weight close to the wall if you are climbing .9s Just remember to use your legs plenty.
posted by ijoyner at 6:07 AM on May 23, 2007

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