Understanding and Reducing Climbing Related Injuries
From sport climbing to bouldering, climbers push themselves above and beyond to “send” routes of every variety. As a result, it is no surprise that climbers also report injuries abundant throughout their process.
Like all sports, some injuries are more prevalent in climbing. The most common being upper limb injuries (fingers, wrists, forearms, elbows and shoulders). However, studies show that over 50% of climbers return to sport before their injuries recover, and 45% of them have chronic issues in relation to their climbing injuries. Still don’t believe me? You may have even heard of the phrase “tweaky finger” being used to describe a potential pulley injury in a finger, that same person might be climbing now as you finish this passage!
The subconscious mentality of climbers to push through their injuries in favour of progression is probably what makes this sport so amazing. However, it is equally important to understand the mechanism of said injury to ensure climbers are not putting themselves at higher risks than needed during their progression.
As a physiotherapist (and avid climber myself), I find that the most common mechanisms of injury are divided into 2 distinct groups: “Overuse” and “Overload”. Both scenarios are nearly unavoidable as harder climbs are attempted and climbers push their bodies to its physical limit. That being said, there are numerous ways to reduce the risks of getting injured.
It goes without saying; a proper warm-up should take priority over any projects you’re dying to send. Focusing on a variety of dynamic stretches that take you through your range of motion will not only prime your body for the task ahead, but also provide valuable insight into your body’s physical capacity on the wall. Furthermore, climbing technique goes a long way into ensuring your body is used efficiently and safely whilst climbing. Identifying strenuous sections on your project will inform you of movements to incorporate into your warm-ups.
How many times do you go to the climbing wall each week? And how many rest days do you give yourself? Do you feel your performance declining by your 5th day this week? Considering the physical demand of the sport, climbing should be considered akin to gym workouts. ACSM guidelines recommend 2-3 non-consecutive days for strength training each week with plenty of rest on your off days. Therefore, rest days should only involve light mobility work focused on functionality rather than strengthening. Climbing offers a unique perspective to training as isolating aspects of your technique to train throughout the week allows for a relatively balanced training regime (e.g. footwork, finger strength, core, shoulders, balance).
In other words, a good warm-up, prioritising technique over raw strength and sufficient rest throughout the week will all contribute to reducing the risk of injury and maintaining a consistent level of performance throughout your climbing career.