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An elbow pain that's New To Me

Original Post
Andrew Ryder · · Arizony · Joined Jun 2006 · Points: 3,800

Help me Dr. Mountain Project.

I've been experiencing some elbow pain specifically unlike any I've had in 11 years of climbing. It's very transient - sometimes I feel nothing, sometimes it's a sharp pain suggesting tendonitis/overuse - and it's localized to the bony bump inside the left elbow. (See pic.) It doesn't refer anywhere else, unlike elbow pains I've had in the past which I can feel in my hands and other parts of the arm. I have been mostly bouldering and toproping harder routes in the gym. I'm left handed and my job requires a degree of repetitive motion (knife handling.) Ibuprofen and ice help slightly. Long pulls on small holds exacerbate the pain but it's never excruciating or debilitating. It's definitely getting slowly worse.

What do you think? Is regular old golfers elbow, or maybe something different? Are there any good stretches or treatments out there?

Andrew G · · Silver Spring, MD · Joined Feb 2013 · Points: 303

Certainly sounds like medial epicondylitis. Welcome to the club! If so, here's everything you need to know:

For me personally, I let it get pretty bad, so I ended up taking a month off of climbing entirely and focusing on the rehab exercises. Pain is pretty much ever-present, but managed and doesn't affect my climbing unless I'm really crimping hard without enough rest.

Andrew Ryder · · Arizony · Joined Jun 2006 · Points: 3,800

Nothing like a Latin name to make it sound even worse! Pretty much what I expected. If you don't mind me asking, how bad did it get before you treated it? I'm hoping it's still early enough for me to manage while continuing to climb. Thanks for the link, looks like an awesome resource.

jmmlol · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Nov 2016 · Points: 0

Elbow at 90 degrees, palm down, then make a fist. Now press your fist into your other hand trying to only flex your wrist. Slowly let your other hand down to check the full range of wrist movement toward the ground. 

If that hurts, then you probably pulled a muscle doing a low lockoff. I've had this problem in both arms for almost a year. It's slowly gotten better over time just climbing through it and avoiding super hard lockoffs for a while. Massaging my forearm helped.

Andrew G · · Silver Spring, MD · Joined Feb 2013 · Points: 303
Andrew Ryder wrote: Nothing like a Latin name to make it sound even worse! Pretty much what I expected. If you don't mind me asking, how bad did it get before you treated it?

Golfer's elbow just sounds so sad, the latin name gives it a more badass feel.

I went through 3 or so rounds of resting it for not long enough (a few days, a week, 2 weeks) without doing any PT, assuming it'd get better. It did not. It was actually painful enough that my climbing was suffering. Then I finally did some more research and went to the doctor. The doctor confirmed the diagnosis, but simply suggested 3-4 months off of climbing. That sounded like a recipe for feeling better and then re-injury as soon as I started climbing hard again. I took a month off, doing nothing for a week or so, then started in with the dodgy elbows routine. It's been a year and a half now and here's where I'm at: I need to keep up the exercises 3-4 times a week, but I'm climbing 3 days a week, harder than ever. There's frequently a bit of pain in my elbows (exacerbated by toting around an infant), but not bad enough to affect my climbing. If I up the intensity of my workouts or climb 4 days a week, I need to plan a longer (4-7 days) rest after a few weeks.

If I were in your shoes, I'd confirm the diagnosis, and if it is indeed golfer's elbow that you caught early, I'd take two weeks off, start the PT after a few days, and ease back into climbing over ~3 weeks while continuing the exercises. But you gotta figure out what works for you. Listen to your body!

Andrew Ryder · · Arizony · Joined Jun 2006 · Points: 3,800

Thanks Andrew! Going to take a few days of rest and see where the pain is at, then launch into PT.

Guy Keesee · · Moorpark, CA · Joined Mar 2008 · Points: 310

AR.... I had the same thing you describe and I did about the same things as Andrew G did... Rest some, when you resume climbing stay off of the crimping, take up crack climbing. 

Steve Ilg .....     wrote a book, a long time ago called Training for Climbing..... someplace in the book he has a tip about curing what you have. 

The link to Dr. Julian is a good one and that shows some of the exercises Ilg recommends. ....   The trick that cured me for good was this.....

Do a arm workout, all of it, using weights till your so tired you can't lift your arms.... then pick a bar that is not to heavy (I like the curved one, it was just right) lie down on your back on a bench.... grab the bar with your hands almost together and start with them on your forehead.... lift your hands just a bit.... till your forearms are roughly parallel to the floor- no farther - do about 20 reps, 3 times, do this 3 x week and your elbows will get strong. 

After about 6 mo of this I was cured! forever! go and work the campus board. 

I guess what this does is add some strength to the tiny muscles that help keep your joint in should feel the burn in these as you do the exercise. If you don't tire out the big muscles they will do the work and not the tiny ones. 

good luck to you. 


Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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