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Ryan Huxley explains why surfers are predisposed to elbow problems and what you can do about it.


Spring is propelling towards summer, and for the residents of Byron Bay that means an ever-escalating number of people are hitting our lineups. With more people frantically seeking oceanic solitude, the extracurricular spots that are normally occupied by just a few are starting to fill in. Being an early to bed early to rise kind of guy, I am usually submerging myself just as the sun fringes the horizon, and in the process avoid manic rush hour. This is quite the opposite of a city beach where most surfers are squeezing in as much sunrise goodness as they can before their work schedule takes over. In contrast Byron’s relaxed nature, transient migratory residents, and lackadaisical approach to work means the early morning is a good time to score.

Transitioning into this weeks article as surfers one body area we need to be careful with is our elbow’s, particularly the inside region (known as the medial epicondyle). When paddling we repeatedly contract two sets of muscles that originate from the inside of the elbow, and run down to attach to the wrist and hand. The first is the ‘pronator teres’. When we turn our hand over or inwards during a paddle stroke we contract this muscle. The second group known as the ‘elbow flexors’ is activated when we pull our wrist downwards to capture more water and gain subsequent propulsion during paddling.

There are 2 major reasons surfers are predisposed to elbow problems. The first caused by surfing regularly without stretching the pronator and flexor muscles of the elbow. Over time this absence of stretching leads to these muscles pulling excessively on their origins at the elbow bone. If this carries on unabated for lengthy periods the tendon and/or muscle eventually suffer small micro-tears. This leads to inflammation, weakness, and pain on the inside of the elbow. The second way this injury occurs is if your ADLs (Activities of Daily Living) predispose you to overuse of these muscles. For example if you are on the tools and grip for long periods at a time, or perhaps type on a keyboard frantically for extended bouts, you may inflame the inside of the elbow in the same way that regular surfing without stretching does. Combine the above 2 scenarios and you can imagine the disastrous consequences; significant time out of the water.

To learn how to prevent or overcome the ‘Surfers Elbow’ follow my next two articles as I run through some simple stretches and strengthening exercises.

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