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Stop Ruining Your Elbows. Now!

Elbow pain is a common climbing malady, but you don't have to live with it, and you don't even have to get it.

There’s no better feeling than having your forearms be completely pumped after a send. But there’s nothing worse than realizing that you pushed too hard—and now your pump has turned into pain. More specifically, it’s a pain that’s localized along the inside of your elbow where your forearm muscles attach to the bone. The pain can be from a single climbing session during which you climbed too hard, or it can be cumulative from overtraining. You may have discomfort with flexing your wrist forward or stretching your wrist backward. This inside elbow pain is also referred to as golfer’s elbow or, more technically, medial epicondylosis.

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The wrist flexor muscles start at your wrist and attach to your inside elbow.

But fear not. You can tame that pain and still train hard and crush your project with some simple movement tips, plus a preventive exercise to balance the strength in your forearms.

Movement tips to prevent injury while climbing

When you climb, the constant gripping action overworks the finger and wrist flexors in the front of your forearm. The repetitive action of constantly flexing your fingers and wrist can lead to degeneration of the tendons that insert into your inside elbow. In climbing, four common movements can lead to repetitive strain here: gripping with a flexed wrist, overusing slopers, overgripping, and letting your hips sag away from the wall. To combat these scenarios, grasp with a neutral wrist whenever possible, minimize the use of slopers, grip hard only at the crux (you need to save your mojo anyway!), and keep your center of mass over your toes. If you are mindful of your movement and adjust your technique, you can decrease the risk of injury significantly.

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The forward bent wrist position on a sloper can overwork the muscles that flex your wrist.
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A more neutral wrist position on a sloper can decrease the strain of the muscles that flex your wrist.

Recommended Exercise: Raised-Elbow Wrist Rotations

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Rotate the wrist clockwise and counterclockwise.

Perform the exercise below to strengthen the muscles in the back of your wrist. This will help decrease the overuse of the muscles in the front of your wrist that can lead to inside-elbow pain. Strengthening these muscles in an active-arm raised position will reinforce a movement pattern that requires lower-body strength, wrist stability, and shoulder stability. Training all three of these at the same time will lead to greater carryover on the wall.

Instructions:

  • Hold the end of a knotted, anchored resistance band in your hand.
  • Start with your elbow elevated to shoulder height and bent to 90 degrees.
  • Perform a semi-squat and hold.
  • Perform small, controlled rotations of the wrist in one direction.
  • Maintain your overhead arm and squat position as you rotate your wrist against the resistance.
  • If you don’t have access to a TheraBand, use 4 feet of nylon webbing or a double-length runner.

Frequency

3 sets of 20 repetitions in each direction per side

Props

Full-length resistance band

Dirtbag Substitution

Nylon webbing

Dr. Jared Vagy, a doctor of physical therapy and an experienced climber, has devoted his career and studies to climbing-related injury prevention, orthopedics, and movement science. He authored the Amazon best-selling book Climb Injury-Free, and is a frequent contributor to Climbing Magazine. He is also a professor at the University of Southern California, an internationally recognized lecturer, and a board-certified orthopedic clinical specialist.