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Returning to Climbing After Elbow Dislocation

Mar 05, 2023

There are different types of elbow dislocations. There's a lateral ulnar collateral ligament and a medial ulnar collateral ligament. Usually, the lateral ulnar collateral ligament is the one that tears first, and then once that ligament tears, then you get that dislocation of the elbow.  If there's only ligament damage, that would be a simple dislocation. Now, a complex dislocation happens when there's ligament damage and bone damage. That would be like a fracture or a break that would require surgery.

Now, what have you lost when you dislocate your elbow?

When you dislocate your elbow, you will have elbow instability. So if you have a dislocated elbow, that ligament is either weak or it's not working correctly. If it's just a small dislocation, or subluxation (which means the bone hasn't completely gone out of the socket), then it can heal on its own. However, if it is unstable, and your elbow constantly dislocates, then it might be a good idea to get surgery.

So what do you need?

After an elbow dislocation, you need elbow stability. If you dislocate your elbow, it'll be unstable. What you need is to regain your stability again. Now, I will be sharing with you an exercise that you can do to help you if you have elbow laxity or instability.

What you'll be doing is you're stressing your elbow, moving in all three planes of motion. Remember the three planes of motion are:

  • Sagittal plane
  • Coronal plane
  • Transverse plane

We're going to utilize all three planes of motion in this quick little exercise. Remember, climbing is a sport about movement, and movement happens in 3 planes of motion. So you have to move in all 3 planes of motion. Again, this is just one exercise that I would give my climbers who had elbow dislocation. So to know more details and instructions on how to do this exercise, please watch the entire video above for a complete demonstration.

Moreover, there’s a specific progression I would recommend following.  When getting back into climbing after an elbow dislocation, I would recommend to first start climbing statically. Speed is not your friend in the beginning.

If you just had surgery, and you're still getting your elbow working again, then any kind of speed or jarring motion is going to make your elbow worse. So I would start by climbing statically, then I would progress to jamming if you're into crack climbing. If you jam something far in and then move off of that, it will also create the stability we’re looking for.

The last thing you would do is climb dynamically. Hopefully, you're far enough in your recovery to do so. You've mastered static climbing, maybe you've jammed a little bit, and then finally you're ready for dynamic climbing. 

My only recommendation for dynamic climbing after an elbow dislocation is to make sure that if you dyno, you dyno catching holds with both hands first. Swinging off of one arm requires a lot of stability in that one arm, and after an elbow dislocation, this can be an area of weakness.

After you’re confident in dynoing and catching holds with both hands, you can attempt to catch holds with just one hand. Be very cautious and make sure to not do too much too soon. When you swing with one arm, that’s the maximal stress that your elbow is going to have to take. So you definitely have to be careful with that at the beginning after your surgery. 

In addition, make sure you work on your landing mechanics. Most of the time, climbers will dislocate or hurt their elbow because they fall on it. It’ll surely limit your climbing if it happens but see to it that you address it as early as possible to avoid any possible complications.

Also, make sure you're learning how to fall correctly. You can practice it every time. Especially if you're new to climbing, learning how to fall is going to help you reduce and prevent so many injuries because you're not going to be scared to fall if you know how to do this.

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