Treating Tendonitis for Rock Climbers

Treating Tendonitis for Rock Climber

Written by Alex Ariza
Reviewed by Moussia Krinsky-Raskin, OTR/L

Sports injuries can occur from many different kinds of physical activities. This post will focus on how our occupational and physical therapists approach treating tendonitis, specifically for rock climbers feeling elbow, forearm, and finger pain.

Rock climbing is a very demanding sport requiring a lot of strength from your entire body. Grip strength is one of the most important factors in tackling new levels of difficulty in climbing. Working on strengthening your hands and forearms can prove to be challenging to develop without leading to injury.

Even professionals with many years of experience and skill can suffer from overworked flexors in their forearms and fingers.

When your flexors become inflamed from overuse – usually from your hands gripping tightly for prolonged periods of time – it can cause pain that can be felt from your fingers all the way to your elbow. This condition is called tendonitis.

Forearm Muscles - Flexors and Extensors

So what do you do if you suffer from tendonitis? The first step is rest. For many athletes, this can be very difficult to do, especially if they are training for a competition. Some may even be tempted to continue to train, creating more inflammation and a bigger problem to deal with.

Exercises that require gripping should be avoided for a brief period time. Each case is very specific to the individual, so this will vary from person to person.

Simultaneously, to counteract the inflammation, direct application of ice or a cold pack to the affected area is recommended, especially if swelling is visible. After the inflammation has subsided, light stretching can be followed as tolerated.

To help with stretching, our certified hand therapists recommend using heat prior to stretching or exercise to allow the muscles and tendons to loosen up.

You can use a warm towel or heating pad to do this.

Below is one recommendation from one of our occupational therapists, Moussia Krinsky-Raskin, for stretching. Remember, you do not want to stretch to the point when you are feeling pain. There should be some discomfort, but never pain.

  1. Straighten your arm in front of you as much as you can, bend your wrist towards your chest, palm facing you and hold for 5-10 seconds, or as much as you can handle it. This will stretch your extensors.
  2. Straighten your arm in front of you, palm facing outward, gently pull the back of your hand towards your chest and hold for 5-10 seconds. This will stretch your flexors.

Recovering from tendonitis requires patience. Remember to listen to your body. Don’t ignore pain. Continue to push through the pain following the “no pain no gain” mantra can cause far more damage than good – regardless of mind over matter. A badly injured tendon rarely recovers to its full strength afterward. If pain continues for more than a few weeks, it is strongly advised that you see a medical professional.

Here are some tips on how you can prevent tendonitis in the future:

  1. Take breaks often when training. Remember to treat rock climbing as if you were lifting heavy weights. There should be moments of rest between each “set” or climb that you attempt.
  2. Stretch before and after training and rock climbing. It is important that you keep your muscles loose and mobile.
  3. If you feel pain begin to creep up during your climb, stop. We understand that most people will disregard this piece of advice and want to continue training through the pain, but this will ensure longevity and maximum performance of your body in the long run. Don’t work yourself until you are out of commission!

Our physical therapists and occupational therapist are all sports rehabilitation specialists. They will work closely with you to help you recover quickly and teach you how to prevent injury in the future.

If you are just beginning to climb, we strongly encourage you to undergo a strength training program to help prep your body and prevent injury.

Do you currently suffer an injury from rock climbing? Our therapists can help.

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