Musculoskeletal Injuries and Rock Climbing. Inherently, rock climbing and the process of training for climbing can lead to injuries in muscle and connective tissue, such as muscle strains, sprains, or even bruises. Additionally, overuse injuries such as tendinitis or a pulled ligament (or tendon) can occur. As mentioned previously, these injuries are usually caused by repetitive trauma or over use of a particular muscle, joint, or combination of these because of weakness (such as infrequent training or genetic differences).
Musculoskeletal Injuries. Pain should always be your guide
The best defense is a good offense. In other words, you need a planned and progressive training program that takes into account your body’s strengths and weaknesses, which are usually different for each person. In general, if your body is always in a state of high fitness because you climb frequently along with strength and aerobic training on a regular basis, then your tendons, ligaments and surrounding muscle groups should be resistant to injury. On the flip side, if you engage in very little training and are a sporadic climber, then you become less resistant to injury. Remember, you’re only as strong as your weakest link.
To combat injury in rock climbers, Tim Poppe a physical therapist at Physiotherapy Associates in Gunnison, Colorado recommends weekly strength exercises specific to climbing. He also recommends that climbers use dynamic movement, such as light bouldering or traversing on a wall, to warm up before climbing. If an injury does occur, you should stop climbing in order to evaluate the severity of the damage.
Pain should always be your guide. Continuing to climb while injured can exacerbate the damage; thus, rest is usually advised, followed by specific stretching or strengthening exercises to rehabilitate the injured area. Light, specific bouldering exercises may help with the recovery process as the injured area gains strength and becomes less prone to reinjury and pain.
As mentioned, the first thing to do when an injury occurs is usually to stop the activity that caused the damage. Next, it’s recommended that you ice the inflamed region for 15 to 20 minutes along with painless compression. Elevation of the injured site may be warranted to help reduce swelling and pain. This is the RICE principl. Also, anti inflammatory medication may be helpful and should be taken according to the manufacturer’s recommended dosage.
Remember, you should seek advanced medical advice if an injury is severe, is painful, and hinders normal movement. Otherwise, you may just need to apply the RICE principle, emphasizing the need to rest the injured region, followed by a planned, progressive strengthening routine to get back to form without rushing the healing process.
If a bone is broken or a serious tendon or ligament pull occurs—especially in the hand or fingers then expert medical evaluation and rehabilitation are necessary. Surgery may even be needed to set the bone correctly or to scrape away scar tissue. Also, specific taping or splinting measures can be undertaken to help stabilize an injured area after recovery.
You must carefully evaluate all injuries no matter how insignificant they may appear in order to avoid future flare-ups caused by overuse or inadequate training. Nothing substitutes for and makes you injury resistant like the specificity of training achieved by climbing on a regular basis. If you know that you’re not fit, you should begin at an easy to moderate grade.
Don’t be afraid to back off an overly strenuous situation—you can return when you’re fitter and ready to face the demands. The rock or route will always be there!