By Phoebe Armfield
Elbow tendinopathy (which leads to elbow pain) is quite common among pole dancers. I’ve had it in both elbows….at the same time….while trying to train for a competition! As a physio and a poler I often get asked for advice, so hopefully some of the tips I share here will help if you are suffering elbow pain or prevent elbow tendinopathy in the future.
I’ve found that most pole related elbow pain is caused by disruption of either the forearm flexor and/or extensor tendons. A little anatomy lesson: The muscles on the anterior surface of your forearm (the same side as the palm of your hand) are the forearm flexors. Most of these muscles all join at one point (smaller than your little fingernail) at your elbow. If you have your elbow by your side, this point is the closest boney prominence to your body. Similarly with the forearm extensors all the muscles on the back of your forearm (hairy side) attach at a single point at the boney prominence on the furthest side of your elbow in relation to your body.
So what you ask? Well, as we are gripping onto the pole and contorting our bodies into weird and wonderful positions the muscles of our forearms are working overtime to assist our hands to grip, as well as stabilise the wrists and elbow joints while they carry the full weight of our bodies! The muscles of the forearm are pulled from the small attachment point at the elbow towards the hand, and this can create strain on the attachment point, which can then lead to elbow pain.
How do we fix it? There are a few techniques which I’ve found to be super helpful in relieving elbow strain and pain.
Myofascial release – The best thing about it is that you can do it yourself! As discussed the cause is the muscles being pulled to the hand away from the elbow…so, we can reverse this by using your fist to massage TOWARDS the elbow in one motion to give the attachment point some slack. I do this throughout my training sessions mostly but can be done when not training. In my experience this is by far the most effective technique. It will take time, weeks to months for the pain to completely alleviate but don’t be disheartened – you will return to your former glory!
Bracing – You can buy elbow braces for around $30 from most chemists or sports clinics. They are a band that fits around the top of the forearm just under the elbow and acts to offload the attachment point. They can work to alleviate pain while training but may not fix the cause and can get in the way while training.
Ice – this is good after training sessions if the elbow has been stirred up or inflamed. This will not fix the cause just reduce the inflammation caused by the latest training session.
Heat – this can reduce pain in between training sessions, however it will actually increase blood flow and inflammation to the area so avoid using it just after a training session. Again it will not treat the cause of injury.
Stretching and strengthening exercises – Stretching can help but can also stretch the forearm muscles the wrong way pulling the muscles off the elbow attachment point which is what we want to avoid. Eccentric strength exercises are suggested by research, however I find these only aggravate the elbow so these exercises should be saved for after the pain has resolved.
Rest – um… but who wants to rest from pole?
Hopefully this helps shed some light on elbow pain for polers! Let me know if you have any other helpful tips!
P.S. Large poles (e.g. 50mm) can be a culprit, especially if you have little hands. Try using a thinner pole if available. Or give yourself a break from moves or positions that cause lots of pain, just train something else and come back to it SLOWLY.