Climbers and Elbow Tendonitis

April 13, 2012
Will Gadd

This started off as the reply to an email but it’s now a post. NOTE: I’ve got zero training for this topic, go read my friend Dave Macleod’s excellent post here for the professional view (and everything else the guy writes, he’s a smart one). The below is just my experience with elbow issues.

Elbows: I’ve done every elbow rehab exercise ever over the years. For me these things work:

Initial Problem Stage, or “Yes, I’m going to admit I’m all messed up finally, and my elbows are a disaster. Shit.” How to stop the damage:
-ART massage. Not “sorta ART,” ART. Expensive, painful, works.
-Ice. Put it in little Dixie cups in the freezer, rip off strips of Dixie cup, apply. Brilliant. Twice a day. I don’t know for how long, I sit there until my elbow is cold and feels right.
-Don’t quit all activity involving your arms. This does not work for me, in fact I get worse. But do change whatever activity you’re doing. Swim, yoga, climb trees, whatever, but you’ve gotta keep your arms moving or everything gloms, especially when I’ve let it get really bad.
-Stretch. One fingers at time, full hand, but you’ve got to decrease the “walking around” load on the elbow. I don’t know why, but it is very important for me to heal.

-Continue with the above as required to be pain-free and add the following:
-Do these: Medial or lateral depending on injury. Looks silly, works.
-Also, and I hate to say this but it has worked for me, do bicep curls if it’s medial. Rotate the weight as you do the curl–light, very light to start, then over a period of weeks to months increase the weight until it’s actually hard. Doesn’t seem to much matter how you rotate the weight as you do the curl, but rotate it fully. If it starts hurting back it down until it doesn’t hurt. You may be doing these with a salt shaker to start, no lie.

-Go climbing, but at a grade that is far, far below your peak level. If you insight 5.12 then go climb some long 5.8s. I believe the easy  load in the same manner that caused the injury is somehow good for setting things right. I don’t know why, but it seems to work well for me and others.

-If your elbows start to hurt stop what you’re doing and change your game. Immediately. If you’re climbing jugs in the gym then go crimp something, vice versa. If you keep doing what has led to the problem then you’ll be injured worse. I write that because I keep learning that lesson. Keep climbing, but change it up–most injuries are due to too much of the same thing over and over. If you’re bouldering put a rope on, etc.
-Do some of the above as required to keep pain at bay.
-Do different sports. Paddle, ski, etc. Take some time off for longer periods. The goal is to climb forever, not just this year or month…

-Don’t crank the load or intensity too quickly, or you will get hurt. If you’re feeling good then don’t jump on a V-Hard boulder problem/route.

-Avoid “tweaky” shit like pulling in a fat rope through an ATC for hours. Horrible. Get a Gi Gi or something if you’re a guide or do a lot of multi-pitching.

And when you forget all of the above and get injured accept this fact early, and rebuild carefully. The longer you delay the rebuild the longer  you’ll have to rebuild.


If I can only remember my own advice I should stay off the therabar for another year or two…