Elbow tendinitis is one of those issues all serious climbers have to deal with sooner or later. I've done battle with it off and on for literally 25 years. I think what always kept me from developing really serious problems was my "off" season, when I would go kayaking or paragliding for at least a couple of months. This allowed some degree of rest, or at least very different motions. I often felt like I was losing all fitness during this period, but usually came back within a month or so to near-peak fitness. In '06 I had a strong mixed season that, due to poor conditions for flying, went straight into a hard rock season. I was climbing rock as hard as I have in 10 years, and training hard for that. I did have some rests of up to four days, but climbed hard consistently at least once a week and normally three to four days a week. At the US Paragliding Nationals I still managed three days of hard climbing in eight days--that was about the biggest "rest" I had.
I was also doing a lot of yoga and hand-stand pushups, both of which put tremendous torque on the lower arm's flexors. In Ashtanga yoga you do a lot of "swing" throughs from standing to sitting with your legs in front of you in an L-sit and then back through your arms to a push-up position. I'm not very flexible, and think the "jerkiness" of this movement for me likely stressed an already stressed common flexor tendon. I also got to the point in my handstand pushups where I was starting to balance through the movement rather than just keep my feet on the wall; this also put a lot of stress on the common flexor tendon in my elbows. I then beat the hell out of my elbow on the Yamnuska multi-pitch project--climbing, hauling, cleaning, it all also adds up. Looking back, I was just hammering on my elbows. They both hurt a little, but I've dealt with that in the past with changing up my climbing style, and then also taking that big "off season" break for flying or paddling. On the Yam route my left elbow started to hurt not only while climbing but while living; picking up frying pans, moving rocks (did some landscaping in there as well), but I pushed through it to get the Yam route done. I don't regret that decision, but sure has cost me this fall and early winter. In retrospect, I wish I had taken a month off after the Yam route, but I tried to keep training at lower intensities. Doing too much on the elbow flexor was the first problem, then not accepting the problem and dealing with it was the second big problem. I'm still paying for that decision...
I've been going into Calgary having James at Adjust Your Health work on my elbow. It's not all flowers getting Active Release massage work done (in fact, some of the movements are among the more engaging sensations I've ever felt), but James can pinpoint issues in my elbow and work on both the immediate problem and also the surrounding structural issues. The relief from these sessions is fairly immediate; next day the elbow hurts, but not in that "tendon" way, more of a, "Damn, what just happened?" way. The tendon pain has been steadily decreasing in "sharpness" and overall severity. The acid test is, believe it or not, washing my face. This morning I washed my face pain-free, which was pretty cool. ART doesn't seem to be the immediate cure, but it's the first thing I've tried where the line of improvement/not is slowly up, so I'm going to keep doing that. I can actually feel the crunchy bits in my tendons releasing as James works on them, bizzare but also cool.
I've resisted the full-on drug route as I am pretty careful about what I put into my body. In my twenties I did a lot of anti-inflam drugs for finger issues, those only really resolved themselves when I stopped taking NSAI drugs. NSAIDs are great for symptoms, but I don't think they help much with the actual causes of the problems in the long term.
I went to the gym last night for the first time in a month and did a solid core session then some very light pulling motions in addition to the normal gentle rehab exercises. By really light I mean five pound weights, which isn't very macho. Today the elbow feels better than it did yesterday, so gentle, gentle, I do NOT want to the improvement line to stop trending upward... I've also modified my yoga session to reduce force on the elbow (no swing throughs to seated, limited downward beeyotch) over the last three months, that seems to be helping, and no hand-stand pushups at all. I've been running, skiing and generally beating around in the mountains a fair amount so I feel aerobically fit, but the upper body isn't what it used to be. It's hard to watch muscle atrophy, but at least I have some hope...
I'll make sure I take at least a month or two off in future seasons, I really believe that's critical for healing both body and mind. Patrick Edlinger used to take a month or two off every season to ski, I think he had that idea right.
Sunday, February 04, 2007
So I got home yesterday after destroying myself with about 5,000 feet of aerobic purification and celebrated by lounging on the couch with a glass of good scotch. Or two. I was checking out ski randonee race stuff (no plans for a career switch, but interesting) when I started following the Sunlight 24 hours race. Canada's Greg Hill was going hard at about 5:00, and every once in a while I'd check in. After I ate dinner and he'd knocked out around 20,000 vert. As I was getting ready for bed he'd done around 30,000. This morning, after I'd had a nice sleep in a soft bed he was pushing 45,000. He's now one run away from hitting 50,000 of vert in 24 hours. I felt pretty hedonistic, Greg was getting FULL value out of 24 hours. He had some good competition from an adventure racer named Eric Sullivan, but in the wee hours Greg stomped a few runs to eventually get a lap up on Eric. I can only imagine the effort it must have taken to do that. Now it's 10:00 and Greg is one run out from 50,000 vertical feet up and 50,000 down. Barring total collapse, he's got it done. Now that's an accomplishment--most people probably don't ski 50,000 vert in a season. Damn.
Race results are live here.
Race results are live here.
Posted by Will Gadd at 9:05 AM