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  • Dealing with Elbow Tendonitis

    I thought id talk about something a bit different for todays post - Elbow Tendonitis: something ive suffered from on almost every bouldering trip for 10 years. Its routine reaccurance - and the subsequent fear of it - stopped me climbing at Castle Hill, New Zealands best bouldering location, and has typically ended trips when it crops up.  I should point out that Im not a medical practitioner: im just a boulderer keen to share my recent revelation about fixing this fustrating and pain problem!

    My particular type of tendonitis is highlighted in the photograph above and it seems to be bought on by any prolonged session pressing down on slopers with a bent arm (mantles = instant tendonitis for me) - hence my problem at Castle hill!

    The first time It occured I took the advice of my Physio and stopped climbing for close to a month, did the prescribed stretches and started doing exercises to balance out my climbers shoulders. By the time I was done with the 'treatment' I was back climbing in the gym without pain and it appeared it was fixed  ...only to crop back up on my next trip to Castle Hill or anywhere else with lots of slopers.

    This happened again and again untill I just wrote off Castle Hill as a possible climbing destination, and fled from any problem with the hint of a sloper-press in it!

    Fast foward 7 years of this behaviour and im in Rocklands at the start of a 4 months climbing world tour, and not a week in im trying a compression arete line and bam, my elbow pain flares up in both arms!

    There can hardly be a better motivation to fix a problem than being in the worlds premier bouldering location and unable to climb anything, so I spent days reading and trying techniques, right from the morning the pain started. Within a few days I was back climbing non-sloper climbs, and three weeks later I was projecting the climb that broke me with no pain whatsoever...

    Its hard to describe the revelation I felt: and the solution was so simple and the results so profound i felt i had to share it.

    1. While its still painful, draw around the affected area: This is important as once the pain subsides its easy to forget where it actually hurt, which is key in knowing the correct rehab.
    2. Take a big ice cube and massage the whole thing into the affected area untill its completely melted. Repeat at least 3 times a day for the first few days, while avoiding climbing anything with slopers. This will help reduce inflammation and as the pain subides additional pressure can be appliued to massage the tendon.
    3. Rehab. The ironic thing about treating tendonitis is that instead of stopping doing the climb or move that broke you, you actually train FOR it, with one key point - you do it eccentrically, with muscles expanding instead of contracting. For my particular bicep tendonitis, this ment taking a 5L water bottle in my hand, raising it up with both hands into a bicep curl with my palm turned down (the position your hand would be pressing down a sloper) and slowly lowering it over 10 seconds. Lift with both hands and repeat. After a session of 10 drops use step 2 to remove any inflammation you may have caused. Repeat as often as you can...
    4. Once this became too easy and not painful (after a few days for me) I moved to some wide, round roof beams that closely mimicked the holds on the climb that broke me, and started doing slow drop-downs over 10 seconds. This became my twice daily routine, and simultaneously developed the strength for the climb, while mysteriously fixing the tendon inflammation.

    This rehab worked really well for my particular bicep tendonitis - if your pain is in the forearm (tennis or golfers elbow) a different exercise is called for, but still done eccentrically. I havent suffered from this type, but from my understanding it can be treated in a similar way using a hammer, or heavy frying pan held at arms length and rotated down in order to stretch and strengthen the affected tendons.

    A climber I met a few days ago also told me of a treatment for outer forearm tendonitis (tennis elbow)  that apparently fixed his: Lie on your front with both hands palm down underneath you. Lift your head softly and you should feel the stretch down your forearm.

    Hopefully this info will help somebody - and if nothing else its a record for me to refer to if it ever comes back! Now im back pressing slopers with no issues, and who knows, I might even go back to Castle Hill again one day.