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Dislocated Elbow
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Dec 27, 2012
Rock Climbing Photo: Mexico
So halfway through my glorious onsight attempt of the red 4+ on the beach wall at the spot I swung on the sick sideways dyno move and fell onto my right arm pretty severely dislocating my elbow. Can anyone give me some better beta for that move?... just kidding, has anyone had any experience with a dislocated elbow? Specifically:

How long before you felt like you were fully recovered?
Did you fully recover?
Who did you go see and what did they say? (especially in the front range area)
What kind of PT did you have to do?
How much tendon and ligament did you sustain?
Is my climbing carrer over?
Any other advice?

Any advice at all is much appreciated. I am trying to collect as much info as possible before I see a specialist and stories from climbers are very valuable.

-Patrick
Patrick Vernon
From Albuquerque, NM
Joined Jan 1, 2001
1,033 points
Dec 27, 2012
Sorry Man. That sucks. Superclimber
Joined Mar 7, 2009
1,496 points
Dec 27, 2012
Rock Climbing Photo: Rapping off the Matron October, 2010
No beta for you on the bouldering, but... Dr. David Schneider at Cornerstone Orthopaedics in Louisville is great for elbows.

I did not fully dislocate my elbow, but subluxed it with a radial head fracture, torn ulnar collateral ligament and ulnar nerve damage. I was out of commission after the original accident for about 7 months. Lived with it for years until it got really unstable feeling, then Dr. Schneider fixed it and it is better than my other elbow.

It is worth a consult to see how much soft tissue damage you did at any rate.

Good luck!
ErikaNW
Joined Sep 28, 2010
162 points
Dec 28, 2012
Toe hook on the blue undercling. I've been watching people take crazy face plant falls on that one since it went up. Sorry you got hurt. I hope it heals up quick. JJNS
Joined Sep 30, 2008
489 points
Dec 28, 2012
I dislocated my elbow around 8 years ago very severely.. I was in a splint and sling for 3 months then free to do whatever I could after that. It was at least 6 months till I had 90% of my range back and felt comfortable enough to try anything with it. Today I have 95% of my range I use to have and don't even notice it. Key thing is to not rush it and be sure to slowly stretch it out to get your range back. Sorry to hear you got hurt though! Jamie Stadler
Joined Oct 25, 2012
0 points
Dec 28, 2012
What it is with these Vernons and their elbow problems?! Charles Vernon
From Tucson, AZ
Joined Jan 1, 2001
2,931 points
Dec 28, 2012
I dislocated my elbow skateboarding a while ago, before I started climbing. It was full on, bone completely out of socket gnarly. Lots of swelling and pain. I did the PT and started taking glucosamine every day. They told me it would never be the same again, but I think they always say that just in case. I healed completely. No problems anymore, but it took a few years. If I overdid anything, it would let me know. Be patient with it, do the PT, stay hydrated, stay positive, and never underestimate the body's ability to heal itself. I recommend doing some kind of glucosamine/MSM/condroitin supplement and acupuncture. You will climb again if you take it easy now and don't re-injure it. Good luck! Jonas Salk
Joined Apr 28, 2008
20 points
Dec 28, 2012
Rock Climbing Photo: Mexico
Thanks for all of the replies so far, sounds like I really need to take it easy for a while. Did any of you have much ligament damage? I am worried about permanent damage from torn ligaments but it sounds like if I play my cards right I can get back to normal or at least close to it. Damn the curse of the Vernon elbow.

-Patrick
Patrick Vernon
From Albuquerque, NM
Joined Jan 1, 2001
1,033 points
May 14, 2016
Patrick, does your dislocated arm fully extend and flex now? I also completely dislocated my right elbow posterior&laterally bouldering, last Friday morning. I checked your ticks and looks like you are climbing hard now again but I'm 4'10 with a -negative APE span so need every centimeter of reach. Wondering if scar tissue works as good as regular ligament. Can't even bring delicious food to my mouth now, look ridiculous trying, but only 8 days in.

Erika, funny, I saw Dr David Schneider just this past Wednesday. Good to know he's good.
Ana Tine
Joined Dec 7, 2012
48 points
May 14, 2016
I dislocated my elbow bouldering in a gym on June 26, 2014. I fell from the top of an 18' 45˚ overhung bouldering wall and landed on the edge of a pad. That caused me to pitch forward and land on my outstretched right arm, dislocating my right elbow.

Getting transported to the hospital and having it relocated was horrible, but not the point of this post!

My dislocation, while severe, was not nearly as bad as it could have been because I am very flexible and quite loose in my ligaments to begin with.

I was put in a rigid splint for 10 days then I used a sling on and off for 3 weeks. I had a previously scheduled climbing trip in mid July, about 3 weeks after I dislocated my elbow, so when climbing was taken off the table, I chose to solo backpack for a few days instead. It was certainly a challenge at times, but wasn't too bad for me.

The only physical therapy that I did was to constantly extend and contract my elbow, pushing its range of motion. I never used weights, just using my muscles to push and hold at the two extremes. When I first came out of the splint I had less than 45˚ range of motion. By week 6 I could get it very close to horizontal.

I began climbing 7 weeks after the dislocation. I stayed off of overhangs for 2 or 3 weeks before beginning climbing on a 20˚ overhung wall quite consistently. I focussed on climbing statically and not hanging on my right arm fully extended.

A total of 11 or 12 weeks after dislocating my elbow I sent Ginseng Route at Shagg Crag on my second try, my first 5.12c. I'm still not quite sure how I came out of the injury still climbing strong, but I'm not complaining.

About six months later, I had reached the point where I wasn't constantly thinking about how I was loading my right arm. Before I dislocated my elbow, both of my elbows could extend a few degrees past horizontal, probably around 185˚. Nearly 2 years later, my right arm reaches horizontal, but only just. At this point I don't feel like my previously dislocated elbow impacts my climbing at all. All things considered, it was an extremely smooth recovery process.

Rock Climbing Photo: Dislocated Elbow
Dislocated Elbow
Callum Douglass
From Lewison, ME
Joined May 4, 2013
230 points
May 14, 2016
Callum, thanks for your experience, recovery timeline, and recovery advice! Especially because you are such a high level climber compared to myself, climbing harder after. If the dislocation gets me to climb 5.12c out the gate we should all get our elbow dislocated. I had a lot of room to improve prior to the injury. I didn't hyperextend like you did but hoping to retain flexibility as it helps make up for my height and strength to weight ratio.

Yours went really far back posteriorly! Mine not quite as far back, but more laterally to the side than what I've seen. I noticed you, Patrick, and me all had fully dislocated elbows, but no fracture. They say the impact that causes a full dislocation is also great enough to cause bone fracture. I wonder if it is because indoor bouldering gyms have padding. I was also at the top, about 15 feet (so probably 12 feet to hand), was trying to get stronger with sets and laps and blew the finish hold. Think legs absorbed some impact, otherwise forearm would have launched out even further severing nerves and blood vessels.

I got the rigid splint off on Day 5 for a hinged brace and trying to extend and flex since, only a 45 degree range as you had, although it causes some tingling due to pinching nerves in swollen elbow. Glad to hear you recovered most of your range of motion. Heard early motion is good for retaining ROM. Wrist rotation is not possible at all and painful when attempted. I read so much about stiffness and inability to fully extend, but little literature about inability to rotate wrist. No hand strength, barely squeeze open a loose spring hair clip with focus.

Yep climbing trip off table, backpacking trip on table now.

Right hand has always been the star with left hand as support... now left hand does everything and more with no support hand. Wondering if this helps with climbing later.

Thanks again, feeling quite optimistic now!


Rock Climbing Photo: Dislocated elbow
Dislocated elbow


Rock Climbing Photo: Elbow after reduction, day 5, in splint
Elbow after reduction, day 5, in splint


Rock Climbing Photo: Stages of Elbow- Day 0 - Day 6
Stages of Elbow- Day 0 - Day 6
Ana Tine
Joined Dec 7, 2012
48 points
May 14, 2016
Your post reminded me of some details that I didn't mention. I had some nerve issues along the inside of the arm just above the elbow. Even mild pressure would send tingling all the way down to my finger tips. It took quite a while to fade, probably 6 months until I stopped noticing it.

A few days after the dislocation, the most scary part for me was that I couldn't lift my arm at all. My dislocation caused part of either my bicep or bicep tendon to be badly pinched. This meant that I had absolutely no way to hold my arm up for the first week or so. I was worried that I had severely damaged my bicep. If I wasn't wearing my sling, I was forced to hold my forearm up with my left hand.

You mentioned having issues with your wrist. I didn't have any issues with mine at the time. While I was in a sling, I was still able to use my hand and wrist with full capacity. In the years since the accident, my wrist has been clicking a lot as I rotate it. Not painfully, but nearly continuously during rotation. It also can sometimes feel very painful while loading it at odd angles, like when meat hooking a large sloper.

EDIT: I also forgot to mention that when I landed on the edge of a pad and fell forward onto my arm, that arm impacted a 4" thick hard foam floor. I was told that this likely stopped my wrist from breaking from the impact. I was also told that while fractures are common with dislocated elbows, they're less common in this type of dislocation, where it is a sudden, clean impact. Fracture containing dislocations are more common in car accidents.
Callum Douglass
From Lewison, ME
Joined May 4, 2013
230 points
May 14, 2016
While some people may wonder why I'm not PM-ing you instead, all I have been doing this week is googling "Elbow dislocation recovery" and think this information may be helpful for someone who undergoes this experience down the road. Especially climber-specific information. Life functions are one thing but climbing is another level of arm and hand usage.

Additional details are very interesting. Did not know that about sudden impact avoiding fracture versus a force applied over a longer time, like a car accident. But it makes sense. Initially prided self on strong bones. Didn't think about wrist breakage and the pad preventing that either. Also makes sense.

As for your initial bicep issues versus my wrist issues, I guess everyone's fall is different and aftermath is somewhat different for each incident. But good to know not usual so if wrist doesn't resolve in 10 days will ask the doctor. Hoping for no later wrist issues, although you're highly functioning despite them. Slopers are a bitch.

That must have been scary about your torn bicep, probably thought your climbing career was over & time to find a new hobby. Before help arrived, I thought I would lose my arm. While my right arm can move under its own volition, it can be painful and is extremely slow moving. Thus I sometimes find it easer to just use my left hand to position my right hand where I want it to be.

I have to appreciate humans for figuring out how to reduce elbows, as the pain was excruciating before the reduction. Not like movies where people dislocate joints, put it back themselves, and go on fighting.
Ana Tine
Joined Dec 7, 2012
48 points
May 15, 2016
I am just about seven weeks out from my dislocation. I fell from Space Station Direct in J Tree. In front of everyone one too, what a dumb move. Lucky a dislo is all I got. I was in soft cast for two weeks, sling another week, a hoody pocket for two weeks, and now I can walk around normal. Almost full range of motion back, need to start strengthening now. Haven't seen a doc since the relocation, just been healing it myself. After all, it's just soft tissue damage once they reduce the dislo. Hobo Greg
Joined Mar 30, 2016
6 points
May 15, 2016
Hey Hobo Greg, glad to hear you're almost back to normal! I appreciate the good prognosis timeline. Never heard of the hoody pocket medical device but that's a clever idea. Sorry you embarassed yourself in front of everyone. If it makes you feel any better I just laid there, refused to get up even though someone remarked "there's nothing wrong with your legs" (I laugh every time i think of that). I even requested to be carried by stretcher after confirming there was no additional cost. Even though just soft tissue, I'm seeing a doctor because I'm a slow healer & don't want to risk arthritis or other complications. Ana Tine
Joined Dec 7, 2012
48 points
May 15, 2016
Rock Climbing Photo: The dangler
Glad to hear you're healing up Greg! That was some scary stuff, still can't believe you made that roll left and didn't roll right off the ledge. Glad you're healing up quick. I did something to my right shoulder a couple weeks ago so I gotta let it heal up, but I bet we can still get on some slab at Whitehorse!

As far as the elbow dislocation goes, I had a friend back in high school who decided a dropping a bunch of acid before going out snowboarding was a fantastic idea. Needless to say, didn't work out so well. He hit a small kicker and fell and completely dislocated his left elbow. I don't remember how long the healing process took but I honestly don't remember him being in a sling very long at all. He did fully recover though.
Andrewww
From Concord, NH
Joined Mar 19, 2014
378 points
May 15, 2016
Type 2 monteggia fracture checking in. That is a broken ulna and dislocated radius. I'm about 8 weeks post injury and not climbing yet. I've regained ROM to within 95%. Issues im currently having are popping/locking up/ feeling unstable/ painful while extending my arm. This doesn't happen all the time but only sometimes when i haven't extended my arm in a while or while extending it with an overhead arm position. It seems to be getting better with light weight strengthening.

I don't think this is a career/hobby ender for any of us. Some people lose limbs and continue to climb. I'll check back with an update as I make progress since I haven't found any information on climbing after this type of injury.
trevor stuart
From Aurora, Colorado
Joined Mar 18, 2014
70 points
May 15, 2016
I'm five weeks out from a simple elbow dislocation on my right side from an indoor bouldering fall. I have slightly hypermobile elbow joints to begin with, but I landed onto an outstretched arm from about 15 ft onto foam padding and popped it out backwards. Had it reduced at the ER.

I was in a splint for about a week and then a week after that I started PT. I had some serious bruising but I wasn't in too much pain for the first few weeks except when moving at the limits of my extension and flexion, which was pretty limited. At the beginning I had the most pain stretching the tendon on the inside of my elbow connected to my biceps, which were really tense, and now most of the pain is on the outside of my elbow from extension. The soft tissue work my PT does hurts like hell but it definitely helps the most in terms of breaking up the scar tissue and regaining mobility. I'm almost at full mobility for a normal person (not quite matched up to my left elbow which goes past 180 degrees) and am looking to start climbing within a week or two - could probably start now (and have done some light traversing) but it's probably better to be cautious about it. Was climbing V4-5 and 5.10-11 in the gym before the injury so we'll see where I am in a few weeks.

This thread is awesome; it's hard to find information about this specific injury in relation to climbing and recovery. I hope everyone in the same boat recovers soon!

Here are my x-rays:
Rock Climbing Photo: Elbow :(
Elbow :(
allison tau
Joined Jan 16, 2016
5 points
May 17, 2016
Andrewww wrote:
Glad to hear you're healing up Greg! .... As far as the elbow dislocation goes, I had a friend back in high school who decided a dropping a bunch of acid before going out snowboarding was a fantastic idea.

Whoa a witness! That must have been scary on acid.

trevor stuart wrote:
Type 2 monteggia fracture checking in. That is a broken ulna and dislocated radius. I'm about 8 weeks post injury and not climbing yet. I've regained ROM to within 95%. Issues im currently having are popping/locking up/ feeling unstable/ painful while extending my arm. This doesn't happen all the time but only sometimes when i haven't extended my arm in a while or while extending it with an overhead arm position. It seems to be getting better with light weight strengthening. I don't think this is a career/hobby ender for any of us. Some people lose limbs and continue to climb. I'll check back with an update as I make progress since I haven't found any information on climbing after this type of injury.


Yeah this is turning into a roll call! Looked up Type 2 monteggia fracture looks hardcore. With bone injury that must have been crazy.
I appreciate your optimism & agree with your conclusion for us as it sounds like we'll heal, but I don't want to minimize the struggle for climbers with more permanent injuries. It's a helluva lot easier to climb with all limbs intact, especially arms, essential for leading (except some extraordinary individuals but at a lower level than their full potential), otherwise we'd all be climbing already with our injured arm in the cast.

allison tau wrote:
I'm five weeks out from a simple elbow dislocation on my right side from an indoor bouldering fall. .... The soft tissue work my PT does hurts like hell but it definitely helps the most in terms of breaking up the scar tissue and regaining mobility. ... This thread is awesome; it's hard to find information about this specific injury in relation to climbing and recovery. I hope everyone in the same boat recovers soon!


I'm about 4 weeks behind you so keep us updated! Hope everyone recovers soon!
Ana Tine
Joined Dec 7, 2012
48 points


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