With the rubbish weather we have had this year, rather than easing off my training to focus on routes, I have found myself extending my training period a lot longer than normal. As a result I seem to have picked up golfers elbow
I have a history of ulna nerve problems with my elbow, coming from my neck. Normally I keep climbing while I have my neck treated. This time it wasn’t getting better. It took a while before I released I had an overuse injury, that I had still been training on, rather than I problem I could normally work through.
I was diagnosed with overtight finger flexors, which had put strain on the inside of my elbow. At this stage it was still a fairly minor problem that with massage may have cleared up. I was advised by the physio to start a regime of eccentric exercises to help strengthen the tendon. The idea is that the eccentric reduces the load on the strained flexors and focuses on the tendon itself. After a few days a minor problem had turned into a problem where I couldn’t turn a door handle! I was told to still continue and that it was normal for it to get worse before it settles. Well it didn’t settle and I soon stopped any climbing!!
Image showing site of pain and cause
After a few conversations with Osteopaths, they have a very different opinion on the use of eccentrics. Their thoughts were that eccentrics will only increase the tightness in the flexors and inflame the tendon more and that they shouldn’t be used until the cause of the condition has been treated (the tight flexors). This is certainly what happened to me. During the two weeks of eccentrics my flexors got tighter and the elbow more inflamed.
So what I am doing now? I’ve stopped climbing for at least 4 weeks (or doing trad). I have changed my training to exercises to ones where I don’t grip. So I am using this as a opportunity to get much stronger shoulders, wrist extensors, back, chest and core. I can do any push exercise such as pressups, shoulder press, dips etc. I can also do any exercise using slings, because the weight is taken off my finger flexors onto my wrists, by the slings themselves. This allows me to do all sorts of excellent strength work, including front levers, iron cross (slings on forearms), inverted rows, superman, unstable pressups etc. All training is done with a golfers elbow strap to reduce to strain on the injured elbow.
To rehabilitate the injury I am doing daily massage on the flexors (very deep), icing (3 times day) and ultrasound. The end result is that I have improved significantly within the last few weeks, with a few days of it getting worse after I tried deadlifts! I am will also be reviewing an Armaid from the US in a few weeks, which should help as well.
So the moral of the story is with an overuse injury be careful doing a rehab exercise that puts additional load on tissue that is already traumatised and sensitive from the original problem. Also if you are injured use it as an opportunity to develop other areas of your climbing, which in my case is my main weak area, my upper body strength.