Everything You Need to Know About Tennis Elbow and HypermobilityFeb 12, 2023
Many climbers deal with tennis elbow and even experience hypermobility in certain joints. This is something that can significantly affect their climbing performance and may restrict what they can do on the rock wall. In this blog, we talk about two specific topics. Let’s get to know what a tennis elbow is and what we can do about it, and let’s find out what we can do when climbing with hypermobility in our joints.
What is Tennis Elbow?
The tennis elbow is when there's swelling or tearing of the tendons that bend your wrist backward away from your arm - wrist, and finger extension. You have muscles that run on the top and backside of your arm. Whenever your hand or wrist goes toward the backside of your arm, that's called extension, whereas the opposite where your hand goes toward your palm is called flexion. The medical term for tennis elbow is lateral epicondylitis.
Why is it important for climbers?
You’ll mostly read about injuries on the flexor side, but why do we get injuries on this extensor side because that's not what causes your fingers and wrists to bend, flex, or grip when you're climbing?
When you are crimping, you actually have to pull your wrist back into the extension to get the maximum strength with your crimping power or gripping power. You can test this by bending your wrist forward into flexion, and then bending your fingers into a crimp position. See how strong your crimp strength is in a forward, bent wrist position. Then repeat the same measurement of crimp strength, but this time pull your wrist back into wrist extension. You’ll notice that you can pull down much harder when you crimp with a little bit of extension.
When you crimp recklessly, especially if you full-crimp everything, and you don’t do anything to take care of your body after you climb, this can cause micro-tears and damage to the extensor tendons attached to your elbow. Your extensor tendons attach to your lateral epicondyle, which is just the bony part on the outside of your elbow.
What can you do about it?
If you have this kind of injury, it's known as an overuse injury. What you need to start doing is take care of your body so that it doesn't always overuse the tissues or the tendons so that it doesn’t break down. One way you can do this is by having a regular recovery routine. Watch the entire video above for more details and instructions about this recovery routine that you can do in the comfort of your home.
Just keep in mind that when you do any of the routines demonstrated in the video, make sure you don't feel pain in your wrists. If you do, do not just push through the pain. Listen to your body, and do something that will make you feel more comfortable.
Again, these exercises can help you feel the stretch on your extensor tendons. Hopefully, that helps you resolve your tennis elbow if you're dealing with that. But if it doesn't fully resolve it, that's when you should look for a physical therapist to work with for further assistance.
Injury Prevention When Climbing With Hypermobility
Hypermobility is when your joints can move beyond a normal range of motion. The good news is it's not anything that's super debilitating. It's not like it gets in the way of your life in terms of your day-to-day activities.
But why is it important for climbers?
Sometimes, when you are hanging off of hypermobile joints when you're climbing, it can increase your risk of injury.
What you can do to help you with your hypermobility is do some strength training. That would help you control the extra motion that you have. It's not bad that you had this extra motion or range of motion. But it's bad if you don't know how to use it, and you can't control it. When you're pushing your limit and you hang off of something, and you don't have that necessary strength, that's where your bones can start to be misaligned and you start getting different aches and pains in your joints.
If you know that you have hypermobility in certain joints, try doing strength training around those joints that help your body get that strength so that it doesn't misalign whenever you're climbing.
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