Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Golfers' Elbow - My Experience

I've had issues with golfers' elbow since last August. Having talked to a fair few others in person and on facebook about my experiences getting on top of it I thought it was worth jotting a few thoughts down for others in the same position.You only have to take a glance at the online forums to see how common this issue is amongst climbers! One thing which I think is worth noting is that despite some people on internet forums claiming that the onset of golfers' necessarily means weeks/months of rest, I've managed to get on top of my injury whilst also getting stronger and fitter than ever - there is hope!

At this point I should make it clear that I am not a physio, doctor, expert blah blah...

The problem:
Last August whilst I was on a trip to Loup I started to have issues with the inside of my elbow. I've had issues on the outside before*, but never the inside. The sector we were climbing at has limited easy routes, so my warm-up routine involved a quite a few chin-ups and attempts at 1-armers. Despite the early grumble from my elbows I didn't change this. Clever huh?
When I came back to the UK I took a couple of weeks off, but after that they were worse than before and things continued to decline. I started to look online, did the usual cheapskate climber self-diagnosis and made slow progress for a few months...

Now read this:
That will give you the background knowledge.
http://ukbouldering.com/board/index.php/topic,9343.0.html this thread is a long read but has some useful info.

Things which helped me:
Recently I've been making much better progress and feel like I'm really on top of my elbow issues, getting back to fingerboarding and so forth.

1. See a physio. I hate paying money for things like this, same as everyone else, but in my experience it was worth it. They will be able to (a) eliminate 'other' stuff as a cause e.g. back/shoulder issues and (b) identify whether the problem is the 'normal' (FCU) golfers elbow or the pronator teres one (see the pdf linked above). Answering (b) will tell you which of the eccentrics is the one for you (normal curls or the sideways twisty ones). I hadn't realised until I saw the physio that apparently doing both of the types of eccentrics is much less effective than just doing the right one for you. I've had much better improvements since I started just using the normal eccentrics following the physio diagnosing that I had the FCU version rather than the pronator teres one (incidentally, the opposite of my self-diagnosis). I'm fairly convinced that this has been a key factor for me getting on top of my elbow troubles. One big question is what number of reps to use. There seems to be a lot of conflicting opinion on this - 20 reps/day, 60, ~200... My best results seem to have come from doing 3 sets of 15-20 reps. I do them after climbing on every climbing day but not on rest days. I've also experimented with splitting the sets between morning and evening on climbing days, however this didn't seem to work as well for me.

2. Really work out what hurts it. Campusing and deadhanging were out for starters. For me the high volume parts of my training were aggravating the elbows more than the high intensity parts, however it took me a stupid amount of time to realise that. It also took me a stupid amount of time to realise that downclimbing was the part of my high volume sessions which gave me the most pain - I could still do a reasonable amount of ARC/Aero cap work if I did it only going upwards (e.g. top roping routes).

3. Stretching - This seems to ease the pain if nothing else.
This one in particular hits the spot for me:
The stretches my friend Tom wrote about here also seem useful for some: http://tomrandallclimbing.wordpress.com/2012/11/23/golfers-elbow-a-possible-solution/

4. Hard massage - The physio I saw really got to work on the elbow with some painful massage. I recreate this at home using one of these: http://www.decathlon.co.uk/hand-massage-iii-id_8211895.html

* The issues on the outside turned out to be to do with instabilities in my shoulders and were solved and are now kept at bay using theraband exercises for strengthening the rotator cuff muscles.


  1. I know your pain, currently working through some elbow issues myself. I found that icing the elbow helps as well, since it's inflammation in the tendon anything you can do to reduce this helps. I'm currently sitting in work with my elbow on an icepack...I also use anti-inflammatory jell a few times a day as well.

    I was making no progress with the self-diagnosis method either but I've made rapid progress in the last 6 weeks since going to the physio and being given the right exercises to do and being told to ice it.

  2. Hi Alex! I had golfer's elbow two years ago and it was really painful. I did not consult to a physio though, I sought help only from chiropractor, rheumatologist, and orthopedic surgeon. I also had different medications but I was only able to heal through stem cell treatment. I had it with my ortho surgeon. Although it took me few weeks to have the result of medical science, it was worth waiting. Now, I am back to playing tennis. :)

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  4. Self-diagnosis wouldn’t necessarily help much. If you’re not familiar with the pain you’re experiencing, it is better to ask the help of a professional. It’s okay to self-diagnose though. However, an opinion from a professional doctor, like an orthopedic, is the most important thing that you have to consider. When we self-diagnose, we sometimes misinterpret our own condition and come up with theories. Don’t take the risk. It’s better to be sure than guess what your real condition is. @ Fort Lauderdale Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine

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