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Helping Your Elbows Not Feel Shattered After Pulling on Plastic

Feb 19, 2023

I know there are a lot of climbers who have elbow problems that can be prevented. In this blog, let’s talk about what to do to prevent your elbows from getting super aggravated and how to help your elbows not feel shattered after pulling on plastic.

Now, let’s answer this question: why do climbers' elbows feel like they're going to shatter in the first place?

This is because we have muscles around the elbow that get overworked without adequate recovery. Typically, it involves your forearm muscles since they are what you grip with, and that's what flexes your wrist and fingers. Your medial epicondyle is a common spot where climbers will feel tenderness and pain because it’s where your common flexor tendon attaches to.

The other reason is your bicep. It actually doesn't connect to your upper arm or humerus, it actually connects from your shoulder blade, and then down to your radius, or one of the bones in your forearms. Since climbing requires you to do a lot of pulling, you're gonna use your biceps a lot.

Next is the tricep. When you feel pain in your tricep, there are a few different things that could be going on. Whenever I see a climber who has an elbow injury, I run them through an evaluation process where I make them fire certain muscles, check their range of motion, and do special tests to see what the injury is. If I'm not able to do all of those things, I really can't give you a great answer on what you have.

These muscles are typically what's involved in why climbers' elbows feel like they're going to shatter (There are many other injuries involved in the elbow. If you have significant elbow pain that’s not resolving, seek a physical therapist you trust to help you overcome it). A lot of times people are overusing the muscles in their arms, which is why they get injuries. If you start using the other muscles, your legs, using your core, your whole body, and not just your arms and your fingers, then you're going to disperse that load or that stress, and therefore it's going to reduce the chance of an injury.

A lot of climbing injuries are overuse injuries which means that you're not giving your body adequate rest. You're not taking care of your body, whether that be with prehab or mobility exercises, and you're doing much more than the muscle or the tendon can handle.

What can you do about it?

The first thing you can do is cool down. Keep in mind that warming up and cooling down are two of the easiest things you can do to improve your climbing performance and prevent injuries.

Cooling Down

After climbing, it's common for you to have really tight forearms or feel pumped. So what you're going to do is a 3D forearm stretch. Remember there are three planes of motion and you have to go through all three of them in this exercise. You can do it in two sets of ten after each climbing session.

If this is ever uncomfortable or if you've got wrist problems,  don't force yourself to do it. Modify it, so you don't feel the pain, and then try to work into it a different way.  

Prehab or Mobility Exercise

Another thing you can do is prehab or mobility exercises. First, we need to unlock your thoracic spine and get your mid-back moving. You put one hand in front of you and you wipe under while twisting your back as you reach under. Doing it will loosen your upper back and usually, it makes you feel really good. You can do this exercise for three sets of ten. 

Pulling with the Right Muscles 

The last thing to make sure you’re doing is pulling with the right muscles. If you're always using the muscles around your elbows to pull, then they're going to break down and so the good way to do it is just to use different muscles so that you get an even spread of the stress and forces.    

The incorrect way is to pull with your fingers, but if you engage with your shoulder blades, you'll see how that looks different. You can feel less stress in your muscles because you're dispersing or spreading out the energy required to pull. 

To learn more about different exercises to help your elbow not feel shattered after pulling on plastic, watch the entire video above. 

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