Climbers elbow is a painful condition usually occurring on the outside of the elbow.
This is often referred to as elbow epicondylitis, elbow tendinosis, elbow tendonitis or tennis elbow, even when you’re not a tennis player. I prefer to call it climbers elbow.
If you run your finger along the outside of your elbow you will feel a bony spot. This is called the lateral epicondyle and is where many tendons attach.
These tendons activate when you grip, pinch and reach your hand up to grab a hold. When you combine a hold with pulling your body into the wall, the tendons at the elbow are loaded. Elbow pain and elbow injuries occur when the force on a tendon exceeds its tolerance for stress. Slightly overloading muscles and elbow tendons can lead to an increase in strength, but if you push too hard the tendons are damaged and a simple night of recovery isn’t enough.
One way to test yourself and see if you’ve got yourself climber’s elbow is to reach your arm straight out in front of you with the palm facing the floor.
Actively bend your wrist back while keeping your fingers straight. Lateral epicondylitis / lateral epicondylosis may be present if you notice a sharp pain on the outside of the elbow with this motion. Sometimes the back of the forearm will also radiate with pain.
Another way to test yourself for climber’s elbow is to reach your arm straight out in front of you with your hand in a fist.
While maintaining a fist bend your hand down as far as it will go (a position like you are knocking on a door). If this position leads to the same elbow pain described above, then you may need physical therapy for elbow pain.
A fun weekend at the crag pushing your limits can lead to climber’s elbow that can ruin your plans for weeks and even months to come.
When you learn how identify the early signs of climber’s elbow you can get elbow pain exercises and treatment sooner. Assess yourself and let me know if you have any questions about this topic!
– Aaron Shaw