Elbow pain is one of the most common and debilitating injuries that climber’s experience, it sidelines countless climbers every season.
The most common elbow injuries include:
● golfer’s elbow (medial epicondylitis)
● tennis elbow (lateral epicondylitis)
● thrower’s elbow (medial collateral ligament sprain)
Climbers most commonly suffer from medial epicondylitis or golfer’s elbow; a pain that is felt on the inside of the elbow (the medial epicondyle) that sometimes radiates towards the wrist. This particular injury is a form of tendonitis, which means the tendons connecting muscles to the elbow are inflamed and swollen.
The muscles in our forearm are responsible for pronation and supination (flipping the palm face down and face up) as well as flexion and extension of the wrist and fingers (the closing and opening of our hands).
While climbing, our forearms are generally pronated (palm facing the wall) and the flexor muscles are constantly being contracted as we grip.
Increased hand strength comes as a result of stronger flexors while our extensor muscles are largely left behind. It is this imbalance that causes the stress in our elbow that eventually leads to pain.
The good news is that there are a few ways to prevent and treat medial epicondylitis. Create a routine of stretches and strengthening exercises with each climbing session. Below are three static stretches that can be done after your climbing sessions.
Static stretching involves holding a stretch or pose for an extended period of time. This type of stretching should only be done when your muscles are warm, and are best done after you climb. Ensure you are stretching within 30 minutes of completing your session. All poses should be pain free.
Gorilla Pose – Wrist extension stretch
Begin standing at the front of your mat with your feet hip width distance apart. As you exhale, fold forward bending your knees until your hands reach the ground. As you inhale, turn your palms up so that your fingers point towards your heels. Slide your hands under the soles of your feet and try and hold this position for 15-30 seconds (or 5-10 breaths).
Tabletop wrist variation – Wrist flexion stretch
Start in table pose on your hands and knees. Make sure that your hands are shoulder width apart and that your wrists are inline with your shoulder.
As you inhale, turn your hands, externally rotating your arms. The goal is to have your fingers pointing back to your knees. Try and hold this position for 15-30 seconds (or 5-10 breaths). To deepen the stretch, begin to sit back on your heels.
Half locust – Forearm pronator stretch
Lie on your stomach with your chin resting on the ground and your arms alongside your body. With your palms facing down, rock onto your right hip and slide your left arm in towards the centre-line of your body.
Repeat on the left side, so that the sides of your pinkie fingers touch under your body. Press the tops of your feet into the floor, engage your quadriceps and lift your kneecaps.
As you inhale, raise your right leg and engage your glute. Try and hold this position for 3-5 breaths. Lower your leg as you exhale, and repeat with the other leg.
– Brought to you by Ashley Edwards and Kate Evans, co-founders of City Yogis in Toronto.