Tag Archives: injury

Climber Problems: Elbow Injury


Courtney Sanders putting those elbows to the test.

Got aches and pains? We’ve got Kristen DeStefano, our physical therapist, to the rescue!  Today she talks elbow pains, and how to deal with ’em.

The outdoor climbing season is in full swing now, and you’ve been getting after it every week with gym sessions, hang board routines, and campus boarding in between. What you might not realize is these repetitive and high stress movements are a killer on your elbows. When it comes to climbing, whether you are a lifer or a top rope hero (What Kind of Climber Are You?), chances are your elbows are going to start to ache at some point in your career. Don’t worry! You’re not doomed. Here’s what could be going on.

The elbow is a joint made up of the lower part of the humerus and the upper ends of the ulnar and radius, which make up the forearm. Four movements can occur at this joint. They are flexion (bending the elbow), extension (straightening the elbow), supination (turning the palm up), and pronation (turning the palm down). At the lower end of the humerus, you will see two bony prominences on either side. These are called the medial epicondyle (on the inside) and the lateral epicondyle (on the outside). These areas serve as muscle attachment sites, and therefore can be common spots for injury, particularly in climbers.

Elbow 1

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How To Deal When You’re On The Injured List

Learning how to climb with one foot.

Learning how to climb with one foot is kind of like learning to climb for the first time.

The worst part about being injured is not the pain, but the mental game.  I have been at times overwhelmed, in tears, thinking about the setbacks, how long it will take me to get back to where I was, and how much I just plain miss climbing, and the climbing community.  I was just starting to get super psyched on bouldering outside. That was new for me and it felt satisfying.  Then I made one dumb mistake doing something I’ve done a hundred times.  I just needed to jump 2 or 3 inches further back and I would have been fine.  Instead, as I was jumping off this problem, my left foot didn’t land completely on the crashpad, and it hit part of the boulder.  In a second, my ankle was fractured, and my life was very different.

I’ve never had an injury before.  As you may recall about me, I’m the “newb”.  I have never really been athletic in my whole life, very much the city gal, and certainly have never injured myself (unless you count, like, breaking a nail as an injury).  So, having no idea what I was in for, for the first week, I was surprisingly positive.  I watched Courtney Sanders’ video about training with her ankle injury a bunch of times, and read up about training while injured online.  There are a number of inspiring stories like this one, or this one, or great tips, for example from pro climber Steph Davis on how to train when you have to stay off one leg.  And from Evening Sends on how to not be annoying about being injured. Having armed myself with knowledge, I was feeling upbeat, and thinking to myself that this was going to be a great opportunity to focus on other aspects of fitness, and that I would get back to climbing, barely missing a beat.  Well, I’m here to admit that isn’t exactly how it’s been going.

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Injury Sminjury

I know, injury is a total downer. I try to ignore it too, but it always comes sneaking back in, just like that funky smell your climbing shoes get after a few months. It’s really no surprise that climbing often leads to injury, because people, like me, discover climbing, get obsessed, and go harder than our tendons and pulleys can handle at first. To add insult, climbing injuries are most often persistent and stem from overuse.

I started having shoulder pain about a year into climbing and like any responsible athlete, I ignored it for a while. Predictably, it got worse and I ended up seeing a physical therapist who diagnosed me with tendonitis of the short head of the bicep. This is basically one of the points at which the bicep meets the shoulder. I’m no doctor (actually, I do have a doctorate, but that means nothing here), so I won’t pretend to know much about the physiology of my injury, but I can share my experience. Here are some of the things my injury has taught me and can be applied to most persistent climbing injuries:

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