can't straighten arm at elbow


Original Post
stephaniet · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jan 2014 · Points: 0

I'm having a hard time finding info about this, so I thought I'd post.

My issue is that I can't straighten my arm to 180º at my elbow -- I'm about 5-10º shy of that, and if I try, there is pain on the outside (hard to locate exactly aside from that) but really it feels like it just won't go. This has been going on for two days. (The two days that it has been since my last climbing session.) If I'm not trying to straighten my arm, I have no pain at all. Opening a jar is fine, carrying things is fine, etc.

I started having a tiny bit of pain on the outside of my elbow about a week ago, when I did an indoor bouldering session that involved a lot of overhung stuff (cave and roof), after really not having climbed much overhang at all in about 3.5 months (was more crimpy stuff on 5-10º walls). I just thought it was DOMS, and didn't pay much attention to it. I did another session two days later that was a less overhung (cave but no roof, but most of the session was on 10-15º walls) -- no pain during climbing, but kind of the same very minor pain the next day. Went for a third session with a little bit more overhung stuff (still less than the first time), felt fine while climbing, and then got home and the thing started to really hurt. Initially it was really hurting about an inch above my elbow on the outside. That night I was still able to lock my elbow, though it hurt. I could feel that my triceps tendons were tender where they meet the elbow.

Two days later, there is no more tenderness, and everything feels normal except extending my arm straight -- in any direction (up, down, to the side).

Has anyone had anything like this? It seems like classic golfer's/tennis elbow builds up more slowly than this, and would have other pain associated with it. Needless to say I'm RICE-ing and taking time off and will eventually go see a doctor, but in the meantime, looking for thoughts on the internet.

john strand · · southern colo · Joined May 2008 · Points: 1,575

I HOPE it's not topheus gout ? Or maybe ulnar nerve

swelling ?

stephaniet · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jan 2014 · Points: 0

No swelling or bruising. And to be clear, while I can't straighten it, if I try hard, or if I accidentally put weight on it to make it fully straight, it hurts like crazy.

Andy Turner · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Feb 2015 · Points: 0

To me just sounds like a little acute inflammation of the biceps tendon. Overhanging problems you are generally recruiting your biceps much more than the 5-10 degree overhang. This pain was likely just a results from that. Massage and ice the area and do some light gentle stretching and theraband work.

stephaniet · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jan 2014 · Points: 0

Oops, sorry, I initially mistyped and wrote "biceps" tendons when I meant "triceps."

When I try to straighten the arm, the pain feels like it's very much inside my elbow, on the outside of my arm.

grog m aka Greg McKee · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Aug 2012 · Points: 0

Sounds like elbow tendinitis. If it is rest wont solve it long term, you will need to do exercises.

Question, how long have you been climbing?
Did you take a break from climbing for a while and come back to it?
Have you been improving a lot and climbing more challenging routes?

George Wu · · Newport Beach, CA · Joined Jul 2015 · Points: 76

Sounds alot like the way my tennis elbow came on. Pain after, not during climbing. Unable to straighten the arm at the elbow. For my doc and I, the clincher was when he asked if there was any pain lifting a glass of water. Just that motion of picking up a glass with the wrist oriented that way...

My physical therapist said there are 3 tendons that run across the top of the back of the elbow. Tennis elbow can be any combination of injuries to any number of those tendons, so there are variations between the symptoms.

Mark NH · · 03053 · Joined Feb 2013 · Points: 0

...if it's elbow tendinitis rest it and let it heal. I didn't and I'm almost two years into chronic tendinitis which actually turned into tendonosis. Found a great PT guy who has finally gotten me back on track. In between - just about every exercise, anti inflammatory, dry needling, PT, acupuncture - you name it. I'm seven months with no rock and about five pitches of easy ice and pretty pain free.

fvclimb · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Dec 2013 · Points: 55

Sounds like elbow tendonitis this should help

http://drjuliansaunders.com/dodgy-elbows/

FrankPS · · Atascadero, CA · Joined Nov 2009 · Points: 15

Don't ask climbers for medical advice. Seriously, get a real diagnosis from a real doctor, in person. You get what you pay for!

JNE · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2006 · Points: 1,830

Keep in mind this advice is not coming from a doctor, but at least someone with 15+ years encountering and getting over nagging climbing 'injuries'.

To me it does not sound like tendonitis as I have never had nor heard of it in the triceps from climbing (this does not mean it is not tendonitis), and it sounds like the wrong kind of pain. The pain you felt at first sounds like tendonitis pain (dull ache most pronounced after climbing and aggravation from any use of the inflamed muscle, which includes sharp pain, but always with a buildup of pain leading into it, unless it is from a sudden loading), but the pain you are describing now sounds a lot more like an acute injury, specifically a lightly torn muscle, though I could just be mis-reading. If you feel it is an injury you should see a doctor. If you just let it heal muscles and tendons can take six or more weeks to heal to the point of accepting regular use. I have found Arnica to be a big help for these kinds of injuries, and I usually still climb through them I just avoid using that muscle group intensively or directly. Starting off with a week or two of rest is advisable for this route just to give your body time to be fresh and heal.

If you think it is tendonitis, then the answer for me comes from a little theorizing. I theorize that tendonitis is a symptom of a muscularly unstable bio-mechanical system, such as the forearm. In an unbalanced forearm, the stronger muscle(s) is getting used to stabilize the joint as well as to do it's job, and it is this dual use of the tendon which inflames it. Thus the answer for me has always come from strengthening the weakest muscle in whatever system is experiencing tendonitis. Typically, but not always, this is a muscle which runs in opposition to the one with the tendon hurting.

This has gotten me through elbow, shoulder, bicep, and wrist tendonitis, and I even used this theorizing to convince myself that pinky/ring finger hangs on a hangboard would strengthen the outside of the belly of my forearms, thus relieving the months long tendonitis which had afflicted the outside of my elbows, and which was caused by excessive thumbs-down finger locking. I just used this theorizing to take the strain out of my bicep by adding some specific triceps lifts. In short, it works for me like a charm, and is a great little insight that keeps me on the rock. When you find the right exercises, the pain should begin to subside by the second or third time you have done the exercise (if not the first), so you should know fairly quickly if what you are doing is the right thing. That has been an across the board rule for me.

In your case, if it is tendonitis, try working the other muscles of your triceps (you can see what is out of whack, or make an appointment with a personal trainer) as well as the secondary bicep muscle which is kind of on the side of the arm (french curls for this). It could also be related to the muscles of the forearm, and the triceps is the muscle picking up the slack. In that case you want to work on the top of the forearm, and for this the wrist exercise which involves lifting a weight on a string by rolling it around a broom-handle or stick has been the best exercise I have found. Working in the 15-20 rep range should be about right, and 3-4 sets, done each day after climbing. I would also add in some kind of heavier lift which triggers a large number of muscles in order to help drive up your HGH, as without this your body won't be responding well to the exercises and so will not heal as fast. Something like a deadlift or trigger squats. In any case, you know you best. Sorry for the long post,and I hope this helps.

grog m aka Greg McKee · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Aug 2012 · Points: 0

I have had elbow tendinitis in the exterior portion of my elbow. It is from tricep and top forearm underdevelopment. When you climb you use your biceps and the primary side of your forearm a lot more than the tricep and top side of your forearm. I agree with JNE, you need to work your weaker muscles, tendons, and ligaments.

The solution for me is every time I gym climb I will ALWAYS end with push ups and reverse curls.

But the secret magic sauce is: at home I have a wooden rod that has a weight attached on a string in the middle. I hold the rod at arms length and roll the wooden rod so that it works the TOP of my forearms, and raise the weight off the ground to the rod. Super cheap to build, and literally solved my tendinitis.

JNE · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2006 · Points: 1,830
grog m aka Greg McKee wrote:But the secret magic sauce is: at home I have a wooden rod that has a weight attached on a string in the middle. I hold the rod at arms length and roll the wooden rod so that it works the TOP of my forearms, and raise the weight off the ground to the rod. Super cheap to build, and literally solved my tendinitis.
That is exactly the exercise I was talking about, and thank you for giving a better description. This will also help a little with your front delts, which are another chronically underdeveloped muscle in climbers.

Also worth mentioning is that the above exercise, in contrast to a bunch of individual free-weight exercises done in the same rep ranges and intended to work the same muscle groups, provided a better muscular response for me as well as did a better job of addressing the top of the forearm near the wrist.
stephaniet · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jan 2014 · Points: 0

Thanks everyone, particularly JNE for your detailed response.

And yes, the rapid onset of the stiff elbow -- without any other pain such as when opening a jar, grabbing a glass of water -- really, nothing else, didn't sound like a classic golfer's or tennis elbow tendonitis.

My elbow has actually gotten less stiff/more able to straighten out over the course of the week, and I've found that this is directly related to stretching my underside forearm muscles. (The ones that you see with your palm up) I had noticed that my forearms were really weak on overhung stuff, as a result of climbing barely any overhang all fall and a decrease in volume in general, and it makes sense that my new excitement about overhang was taxing these muscles excessively. Also possibly related: two days before I had the first session after which I noticed pain, I had gone bowling, which I do one a year and at which certainly have terrible form. I noticed that my arm was a little sore the next day from bowling, so I have a feeling it was a combination of everything.

My arm still doesn't love being 100% straight/locked, but it is definitely possible to get it there without too much effort, and without anything I'd call "pain." (There is still some "sensation.") But in-between when I first posted and now, literally every time I stretched my forearm resulted in a little more progress toward getting the elbow straight.

I now have a prescription for PT, and I'll probably wait another week to climb again, though I might try some yoga in the meantime.

Ted Pinson · · Chicago, IL · Joined Jul 2014 · Points: 45

Training beta did a recent podcast with a PT who specializes in climbing related issues. The topic: elbows!
www.trainingbeta.com/media/esther-smith-elbows

john strand · · southern colo · Joined May 2008 · Points: 1,575
grog m aka Greg McKee wrote:I have had elbow tendinitis in the exterior portion of my elbow. It is from tricep and top forearm underdevelopment. When you climb you use your biceps and the primary side of your forearm a lot more than the tricep and top side of your forearm. I agree with JNE, you need to work your weaker muscles, tendons, and ligaments. The solution for me is every time I gym climb I will ALWAYS end with push ups and reverse curls. But the secret magic sauce is: at home I have a wooden rod that has a weight attached on a string in the middle. I hold the rod at arms length and roll the wooden rod so that it works the TOP of my forearms, and raise the weight off the ground to the rod. Super cheap to build, and literally solved my tendinitis.
We used to call this the "contest rod" in Yosemite,,,really cranks the fore arms burn ,baby burn !
JNE · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2006 · Points: 1,830
stephaniet wrote:My elbow has actually gotten less stiff/more able to straighten out over the course of the week, and I've found that this is directly related to stretching my underside forearm muscles. (The ones that you see with your palm up) ... My arm still doesn't love being 100% straight/locked, but it is definitely possible to get it there without too much effort, and without anything I'd call "pain." (There is still some "sensation.") But in-between when I first posted and now, literally every time I stretched my forearm resulted in a little more progress toward getting the elbow straight. I now have a prescription for PT, and I'll probably wait another week to climb again, though I might try some yoga in the meantime.
Doh and lol. I totally forgot to mention the importance of stretching for tendonitis relief, so thank you Stephanie. Even though you don't have tendonitis, this is worth it for the reference to go with my post on strengthening.

I typically incorporate a stretch of the afflicted joint/muscle (depends on what needs stretching, so depends on what is out of whack, usually this is visually obvious) with whatever tendonitis is afflicting me as I find it is as important as addressing the skeletal muscle imbalance, especially and namely in the forearms. The most useful two stretches for me have been for the arms and shoulders. For the arms I like to sit on my knees with my butt on my heels with my palms flat on the ground and my arms straight. I do one stretch with my fingers pointed straight forward (lean toward your finger tips until you feel resistance, hold for 30 sec), and one with my fingers pointed straight back (again lean toward your finger tips until you feel resistance and hold for 30 sec). Trying to keep your shoulders in line as you do this will help deepen the stretch. I have found elbow tendonitis to persist despite addressing the skeletal muscle imbalance if this stretch is not included. For the shoulders I like to put my hands at shoulder height on either side of a standard width doorway (I happen to be about the right size for a doorframe, a corner of a room will be less size restrictive and work just as well) and then try to gently lean the top of my chest and shoulders through the doorway, again pushing until I feel resistance and holding for 30 sec. I do the shoulder stretch less because it had a correlation with pain when I had shoulder tendonitis, and more because it helps keep mobility in my shoulders and keeps them healthy.

Also, Esther Smith gives some great advice on the subject and IMO posseses a fine demonstration of an Ideal arm and shoulder muscular distribution for being balanced for climbing.
Leo Paik · · Westminster, Colorado · Joined Jan 2001 · Points: 22,045

One other thing to consider is the possibility of "joint mice". These are small pieces of the cartilage of the joint being knocked loose and into the joint. These can limit range of motion. They are hard to diagnose: tomograms, MRIs, or arthroscopy. I had that earlier in life.

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

Post a Reply

Log In to Reply