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Outside Elbow Pain: What You Can Do About It!

Jan 29, 2023

Another injury that many climbers might be dealing with is pain on the outside of the elbow. So in this blog, let’s talk about lateral elbow pain associated with climbing. 

When someone says outside elbow pain, that means lateral. To make things clearer, let’s dig a little bit deeper. 

The brachialis muscle is similar to your bicep. It actually sits under it. So if you took your bicep off, you would see a brachialis muscle under that. It attaches from your upper arm bone or your humerus down to your ulna. The brachialis muscle flexes your elbow and this is a similar function that the bicep does. 

So if you're feeling brachialis muscle pain or something that you think is that it would be at the inside of the elbow or the medial side of the elbow. But if you have pain on the outside of the elbow, that means your brachialis muscle probably is not involved. What tends to happen with climbers is that the bony bump on the outside of the elbow, called the lateral epicondyle, will get inflamed. 

It happens because when we crimp, we have to extend our wrists. We're using a lot of wrist extensors and they all attach those bumps on the lateral epicondyle. But it can also cause some problems if you have tight elbows, shoulders, or wrists, and they’re not moving well, then the lateral epicondyle can get inflamed or swollen. The right terminology we can use for that is tennis elbow

On the other hand, a golfer’s elbow or climber’s elbow usually refers to the inside bump or medial epicondyle. Though most climbers who have elbow pain will deal with climber’s elbow affecting the flexors of your wrist and fingers, it doesn't mean that you can't get irritations on the lateral epicondyle or tennis elbow

What can you do if you do have it?

If the bump on the outside of the elbow is inflamed, it's usually tight. So one of the early strategies I would use is to stretch it. You can do an easy wrist extensor stretch. All you have to do is point your hand in front of you and take the other hand to hold your wrist above the hand region. Then, the next thing you would do is add some overpressure down. When you pull down, you can feel the extensor muscles stretch there. 

Personally, I don't like holding stretches for thirty seconds to a minute. If you're a physical therapist in the country, you know that thirty seconds to a minute is what it takes to stretch a muscle to get it to elongate. But in real-life application, I just don't think this strategy works long-term because it’s not replicating how you would use the muscle in real-life function. 

What I usually do is three sets of ten and make sure you feel the stretch every time. Also, this is just something I would do early on if you're starting to feel twinges at your elbow. But, I would change the strategy if it was a later stage closer to returning back to climbing.

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