Mend Physical Therapy Blog and Injury Information

Utilize Shoulder Strengthening to Decrease Elbow Pain for Rock Climbers

July 20, 2022

Make sure you’re incorporating shoulder strengthening into your elbow rehabilitation!

The elbow is one of the most common sites for pain in rock climbers. Lateral elbow pain (tennis elbow) is a limiting condition causing pain with repetitive movements including crimping or pinching while rock climbing. This condition was previously thought to occur secondary to inflammation within the wrist and fingers tendons insertion into the arm, but current researchers have not found inflammatory cells in patients with this condition. Instead, cells of the injured tendons display degeneration and disorganization consistent with the healing process. Gradual loading of these injured tendons with exercise has been shown to accelerate the recovery process and tendon remodeling.

Optimal loading of the injured tendon through exercise is critical to its healing. Both over loading and under loading are equally detrimental to the recovery of the tendon. New research demonstrates utilizing shoulder strengthening reduces pain and improves arm function in patients with lateral elbow pain. Lee and colleagues randomized patients to either elbow or shoulder strengthening groups (J PT Sci. 2018). Authors reported both groups improved grip strength, pain, and tenderness after the completion of the strengthening program. No differences were noted between groups indicating loading of the injured tendons can be done specifically at the elbow or globally through the shoulder. The key is loading based on the tissue tolerance of the injured tendon.

Mend Recommendation: if you’re a rock climber, make sure you’re incorporating shoulder strengthening and stability exercises into your rehab program. Loading the lateral elbow muscles while performing shoulder exercises has clear benefits for the treatment of elbow pain.

If you’re a rock climber experiencing knee pain, schedule an appointment with a rock climbing specialist at Mend. We have locations in Boulder and Lafayette, Colorado. Many physicians, surgeons, and physical therapists do not understand the sport of rock climbing and may give incorrect or ill-advised advice on whether or not to return to climbing. The rock climbing specialists and Mend understand the sport and know when and how to safely return to rock climbing.