This week, our clinic will focus on the details of climbing injuries and how to prevent them from happening or ruining your progress while growing as a climber. Like any high-intensity sport, climbing comes with a good number of risks that most people will have to navigate in order to continue working through the grades and enjoying the process. I interviewed some of our own Bent Gate climbers to learn a bit more about their experiences when it comes to injuries on the rock, how they’ve dealt with roadblocks, and what they’ve added to or subtracted from their routines in the name of injury prevention.
What climbing injuries have you had?
Kick: Torn A3 pulley on middle and ring fingers, unidentified shoulder injury
Will: Broken back, sprained ankles, pulley injuries
Ryan: No serious injuries!
Jake: Concussion with internal cranial bleeding, two A2 pulley injuries, one A3 pulley, subluxated right kneecap, subluxated left shoulder
Daniela: Broken thumb, bruised coxis and back
Ian: Pulley tears, flexor tendon unit strains, sprained ankles, rotator cuff sprains, a mysterious wrist injury
What was the most serious injury, and what happened?
Kick: The pulley injuries, which were caused by overtraining and bouldering in the gym.
Will: My broken back, I was dropped while climbing in the gym.
Jake: My concussion. It happened within my first six months of sport climbing while I was belaying a more experienced climber on an overhanging route. He was cleaning the route, and our friends below were holding him on a fireman’s belay as he rappelled. My climber asked me to put him back on belay in order to keep him from swinging into a tree behind the group after he cleaned the last draw. When unclipping that draw, my climber dropped it down the rope and it hit me in the head. Then, the released tension caused the rope to swing back, hit me, and pull me backward into a rock. I had to be carried out by a search and rescue team.
Daniela: My butt bruises were especially painful. I was belaying a friend who was cleaning a sport route. As he was getting lowered, I was standing too far to the side from where the anchors were located, since it was a diagonal route. As he unclipped the last draw, both the climber and I swung. I was dragged across a chossy boulderfield and destroyed my back and butt while death-gripping the ATC to keep my climber from dropping. I had to drive ten hours back from Canada on those bruises.
Ian: The wrist was the worst. It was honestly probably what led to all my recent injuries. I had just finished a hard training cycle and was the strongest I’d ever been. I was going to take a rest week but my friend wanted to go to Hueco Tanks. We were working a problem called Tequila Sunrise. After trying it many times and a couple days in a row, the pinky side of my wrist hurt to move or rotate at all.
What did you do to treat your injury?
Kick: I ignored it the first time it happened, and then another time I just stopped climbing cold-turkey.
Will: I wore a brace for three months and didn’t climb. I did still hike and ski.
Jake: I was hospitalized, got MRIs, and no climbing for six months.
Daniela: Rest and ice, I didn’t stop climbing but I probably should have.
Ian: I took eight months off of climbing waiting for it to get better, and consulted a hand specialist to rule out one diagnosis. I probably shouldn’t have taken so much time off, maybe found a way to do some easy climbing that didn’t aggravate it, because all that time made me weak and maybe lead to the other injuries when I tried to come back too fast too strong. It’s hard not to try hard right away though, when you know what you used to be capable of.
What do you do to prevent future injury for yourself?
Kick: I’ve learned to train more effectively and spend less time in the gym.
Will: I try to know when to let it go and play it safe.
Ryan: I think that a balance of climbing techniques and styles is very important for me, mixing up crimps and endurance and trad and sport helps me stay balanced and injury-free.
Jake: I pay attention to my own actions instead of always trusting others. I think for myself.
Daniela: I try to rest enough and know when to stop.
Ian: I try to get strong at open hand grips so that I don’t put as much strain on my pulleys all the time, I do rotator cuff exercises for my shoulders, and I skip the training when I’m too tired because that’s when you get hurt. I also try to switch it up to do different things and styles to keep things fresh.
What advice would you give to other climbers about injury prevention?
Kick: Listen to your body about overtraining. I’ve also found that more overall body training rather than overly specific training (excessive finger training, for example) drives better success on the wall.
Will: Pace yourself.
Ryan: Mix it up! Try a little bit of everything. You’ll be a more well-rounded climber and progress in all styles without risking too much over-use on specific muscles or body parts.
Jake: Think out processes and reactions, let the body rest, and take your time when solving mental puzzles on the wall.
Daniela: Warm up before jumping on projects, and remember to rest!
Ian: Think hard about your weaknesses and train them. There are a lot of ways to improve that don’t involve breaking your fingers. What might actually be holding you back, for example, might just be a fear of falling or a mental skill. There may be things you can train without risking physical injury. Be nice to yourself and take rest days too - you can’t always go hard.