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Dislocated elbow

Original Post
Amy Velligan · · San Francisco, CA · Joined Jun 2017 · Points: 0
Hey all. Dislocated my elbow bouldering this past week. I’m still in a splint and then have 6 weeks of PT to look forward to, but I hear dislocations can be tricky. Anyone with this injury have some advice? How soon did you start climbing again?
Hobo Greg · · My Van · Joined Mar 2016 · Points: 200

Elbows generally only dislocate with force, not like shoulders which become more common the more it happens. I couldn’t extend my arm for two months, but a couple months after I could I was back to normal with no lingering effects whatsoever. Just keep stretching and you’ll probably be fine.

sherb · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Dec 2012 · Points: 60

Climbing and pulling, carrying items/grocery bags are generally fine because of the way the ulna and radius hook up together. Pushing esp while rotating is different. For me my elbow still pops a bit, and feels unstable when cleaning mirrors or wiping tables, petting things hard. I could climb within a couple months but it took a few years to do pushups without popping or a feeling of instability. I have full extension but only 97% flexion. Some people heal better or faster than others.

Patrick Vernon · · Estes Park, CO · Joined Jan 2001 · Points: 960

There is a lengthy thread on here about it.  For me it was one week in a splint until the soft tissue swelling went down, then PT which involved both passive and active stretching.  PT is painful but extremely important to getting full function back and important to start early before scar tissue formation.  Now I have zero deficits and am honestly unsure of which arm it was, I think the right!  Take it easy on the climbing, I think it was 4-5 months back to normal and maybe 2 months till I started climbing easy stuff again..   you have your whole life to climb, make sure it heals properly.  Shoulder injuries are far more debilitating from a climbing perspective.   

Megan Holt · · Spokane, WA · Joined Jun 2019 · Points: 0

Hey Amy,
I dislocated my elbow 12/23/18. I was in a splint for 1 week then a brace whereby the amount of flexion and extension I was allowed increased every week, I came out of my brace 6 weeks post injury and did lots of physical therapy from week 2-9. When my injury first happened, I was certain I would never climb again...that ish hurt and just seemed so messed up! However, 4 months post my injury I was able to climb 5.12 and started projecting 5.13...so moral of the story I can promise you that you will climb again. Things that I found helped with healing...1) running. I started running a lot a couple weeks post injury. I swear the vasodilation you get past a couple miles really helped with pain and healing. 2) I took ibuprofen up until a couple weeks post injury then stopped because I’ve heard it messes with healing after the acute
Inflammatory phase is over, and at that point I wanted to know what hurt so I could prevent doing further damage. Ice will be your best friend and eventually around 4 weeks or so post injury (or whenever your swelling is gone) heat will be good too. 3) I started eating an anti inflammatory diet and stayed away from added sugar. Also CBD oil and lotion was great for inflammation control and massage. Also check out the anti inflammatory curcumin (turmeric with black pepper) pills by doctors best, you can buy them from iherb. 4) do your physical therapy religiously and don’t stop when they graduate you or your arm will feel stiff, to a lesser degree I still do my PT daily. I really need to start working stability because that’s the one deficit I still have. A little pain is normal during PT, your going to want to put up with it to get your full ROM back. 5) start climbing slow. Start with a week of 5.10 then 5.11 (or whatever level you feel comfortable with) and so on.... your fingers will be at risk if you start pulling too hard too fast (as evidenced by my current pulley injury 6 months post injury). Just keep your head up and train what you can to stay strong if it’s important to you!
Hope this helps!
-Megan

Amy Velligan · · San Francisco, CA · Joined Jun 2017 · Points: 0

Thanks Megan, that was super informative and gives me hope! It’s only been 3 days and I’ve been alternating between “it’s not that bad” to total despair. 

I F · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Mar 2017 · Points: 2,212

I am now 10 months out from my dislocation. I climb as hard as I did before. I still take a lot of time warming up and stretching that elbow but I almost never experience discomfort while climbing. Occasionally a Gaston or mantle move will tweak it and It'll be stiff for a week or two, but nothing bad. Ease back into climbing really slowly. Especially bouldering.

Amy Velligan · · San Francisco, CA · Joined Jun 2017 · Points: 0

Hi all, just wanted to provide a progress update for anyone else freaking out over this kind of injury.

The first week was heinous, both physically and mentally. I was in a soft split for 5 days and my arm and hand were totally swollen, and I struggled with basic life functions while the arm was immobilized. Female specific stuff was the worst (bras, diva cup, eyeliner, hair dryer) and is still kind of hard to a lesser extent. After the ER drugs wore off they told me to just take ibuprofen so I took that for the first week only, because the swelling was so bad.

I started PT on day 9, lifting really light weights, and I progressed to heavier weights or more difficult exercises each week.

I went to two different PTs and an orthopedist, and they all had wildly different advice about treatment, from “you don’t need PT” to “don’t lift weights” to “lift heavier weights”. I listened to my body to determine what was bad pain (sharp, stabbing) and what was good pain (stretching, difficult). The best PT was climbing/sports specific, I really recommend you search for the right PT.

I did (and am still doing) PT stretches and weight lifting every day and made sure I also did cardio every day (mostly stationary bike, stair master, and backpacking) to stay fit. Backpacking got me out doors, it was hard but worth it. 

I did my first climb and first yoga class around 4 weeks post injury, but I did them one armed. It was hard on my good shoulder, so I tried to limit my one armed stuff and really pay attention to my good shoulder if I was doing it. 
 
I’m now exactly 7 weeks out from the injury, and I can hangboard, do planks, and climb 5.9 on TR. Everything is done slowly and gingerly, and I only climb one or two routes per session.  I can do yoga but not chaturanga, and I move through flows really slowly.
Overall I feel like this is pretty fast, and I’m improving everyday. Early range of motion really helped, and doing weights helped keep me from atrophying. I might come out if this stronger than I was before, since I was never into weight lifting previously!

The thread Patrick referred to is here: https://www.mountainproject.com/forum/topic/107943508/dislocated-elbow 
Super big thanks to Elisabeth and Megan, for their detailed advice and encouragement. This injury was far more mentally debilitating than it was physically because I didn’t have my usual coping mechanisms (like climbing and yoga). For any future people looking for advice, I’d say keep at your PT, you’re definitely going to climb again! 

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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