Medial Epicondylitis from Rock Climbing
Medial Epicondylitis, or Climbers Elbow (aka Golfers Elbow), is a common cause of elbow pain in rock climbers. If you’re already dealing with medial epicondylitis, you understand how incredibly annoying this form of elbow pain can be. Just using your arm(s) for daily activities such as opening and closing doors, picking up groceries, and brushing your teeth can be very painful and frustrating.
I’ve seen this injury make previously avid climbers cringe at the idea of going for a climb around Austin or getting in a session at their local climbing gym. Without the proper treatment to get rid of the problem, many end up gaining weight and literally become depressed because of the limitations this stubborn elbow pain puts on their life.
As you’ll read in this series, medial epicondylitis can have an overwhelming number of different causes that are easily missed by a busy and rushed clinician. If it is not taken care of correctly, it can develop into Medial Epicondylosis which is extremely debilitating and has made many climbers give up rock climbing entirely.
We’ve had patients contact us already suffering for months and unable to enjoy climbing on the Greenbelt or at Austin Bouldering Project. This is such a shame because it doesn’t have to be this way. When there is a lack of progress with recovery, it is often because the medial epicondylitis treatment they received was focused solely on symptoms rather than the true underlying causes of their elbow pain.
Unfortunately, a stubborn case of medial epicondylitis doesn’t typically go away on its own and will usually get worse if you don’t get the right treatment or just try to push through the pain. If you’re struggling with elbow pain and reading this article, our goal is to give you the knowledge you need to make the best decisions about treatment so you can get off the couch and back to the rock wall!
The purpose of this 3-part series is to:
1) Give you an understanding of why medial epicondylitis can be so difficult to fully resolve, and how the proper treatment addresses those difficulties.
2) Provide you with valuable information on how to choose the correct medial epicondylitis treatment so that your elbow pain doesn’t linger for months (or in the worst cases, years!).
3) Provide a self-treatment technique to help ease (not fix) your elbow pain and start the process of getting back to the activities you’re currently limited from or unable to do.
Why Medial Epicondylitis Treatment Often Fails to Get Rid of Your Elbow Pain.
I believe a big reason that medial epicondylitis becomes a long-term elbow pain for many climbers is because most medial epicondylitis treatment approaches do not fully address ALL THE CAUSES of the problem. Most physicians and therapists are forced to rush from one patient to the next and simply don’t have the time to identify and treat all the possible causes of your elbow pain.
Furthermore, depending on who you see for help, many treatment approaches are aimed at symptoms rather than causes. For example, many physicians will tell you to rest, take anti-inflammatory medications, and/or offer a steroid injection into your elbow. Though people occasionally get some relief from this approach, I can guarantee you that the pain in your elbow is not due to a deficiency in a man-made steroid like cortisone.
Painful inflammation is just a symptom caused by something else, and cortisone is aimed at decreasing the inflammation rather than resolving the actual cause of the inflammation. Many people who get relief from this approach only find themselves dealing with the same elbow pain less than a year later because the underlying causes of the problem were never addressed.
Another reason this injury is often unsuccessfully treated is that the potential causes of the problem are so vast that you can’t just use a ‘cookie-cutter’ approach for every case of medial epicondylitis and expect a high level of success. Every case is different. Our patients with medial epicondylitis and other forms of elbow pain span a wide variety of body types and activity levels. From serious boulderers to sedentary desk workers, a huge variety of people develop this debilitating condition and make their way to our physical therapy practice in Austin, TX.
When it strikes, it can completely disrupt your lifestyle. If you’re reading this and are already experiencing elbow pain, you probably know what I mean. Pain with getting your first sip of coffee in the morning, dreading washing your hair or face, being unable to go for a climb (or having to deal with tons of pain after to get your weekly exercise), and the list goes on. This is no way to live! But please know that although it can be more difficult to resolve than many other tendinitis issues for climbers, medial epicondylitis is very treatable!
[Click here to read more success stories from the patients at our Austin manual therapy clinic.]
Are you struggling with elbow pain? If so, please take advantage of our free phone consultation. It doesn't cost a dime and can help you take the first step in getting back to pain-free rock climbing.
Health is Wealth,
Dr. Q PT, DPT, FAFS
Perspective Physical Therapy