Elbow tendinitis. Like I said, it totally wasn’t worth it. Sitting around Bishop and not climbing on some of my favorite boulders in the country is lame, but if there’s a silver lining to this whole elbow thing, it’s the fact that I’ve learned quite a bit about what to do if the demon gets you. The last post (linked above) admonishes those who might be tempted to ignore the pain and/or live with it. This one sums up what I’ve learned so far.
I should mention that I got in this mess by ignoring about 2 years’ worth of elbow inflammation. If you are just getting started with your “itis,” you’re in luck. A little bit of care will see you through. But if you’re a chronic patient like myself, you might need to throw the whole kit at the problem.
Strength gains happen much, much faster in muscle than in connective tissue, so idea behind most of the following advice is to isolate tendons, relax muscles when they aren’t being used, and increasing vascularity in the joints.
As a disclaimer, I’m NOT a doctor and you should probably seek real medical treatment. The purpose of this article is to show you what happens when your injuries get the best of you, and what might be done about it. Also, if anyone reading this has any expertise, please leave a comment.
If you’re getting the first signs of medial epicondylitis
You’ll probably want to read this article by Dr. Julian Saunders. It’s the best one I’ve seen on the topic, and he also injects Aussie wit into the prose. (clicking the link will download a PDF) (Thanks Michal!)
The biggest single thing is rest. I can’t stress this enough. Listen to your body. It needs rest. Avoid things that hurt it. Mix in some days of easy sport climbing or something; don’t just boulder hard all the time. REST!
I would emphasize stretching everything above and below the elbow joint. Triceps, biceps, and all sides of the forearm. The theory here is that tense muscles lead to knots and trigger points, and they just sort of constantly pull and tug at things. After a while, this pisses off your connective tissues. Also pay attention to the Brachioradialis stretch in the above-linked article. If you can do your best to relax, or “neutralize” everything above and below the affected joint, you’ll be helping yourself a lot.
Another great way to neutralize your arms is with massage. My friend Mike Papciak is a very skilled bodyworker, helping to get people such as Ethan Pringle back on track. He strongly recommends using a lacrosse ball, and pinning it between your arm and a wall, then just leaning into it with body weight to really dig into the pressure points. Put the ball behind your back to target the flexors. Or get your guy/gal gym crush to help iron out your sexy beefcake arms. Explain that it’s for your health, and all should be fine.
It should go without saying, but since climbing is all pulling, it will lead to muscle imbalance if you do not incorporate antagonistic muscle work. Pushups. Shoulder stabilization. And for our purposes, forearm extensors. For this, I’d recommend the rice bucket, which you can make yourself for $10 or so. Fill a 5-gallon bucket halfway to the top with some rice, and then do this.