Don't Be Out Of The Game

Image credit: D. Comer

Image credit: D. Comer

Disclaimer: We are not medical professionals. If you have a climbing injury or are concerned about any symptoms, you should always seek advice from a medical professional.

For those of us that live and breathe climbing, and use it as a way to manage stress, there is nothing worse than being sat at home injured, unable to climb.

Random, unfortunate accidents happen in all sports, but some types of climbing injuries can often be prevented.

Injury Prevention

There are two main categories of injuries in climbing: acute injuries and chronic injuries (also referred to as over-use injuries).

Acute Injury

These are major injuries caused by a random accident - a broken leg resulting from a slip, for example. You should always seek advice from a medical professional for any acute injury. You will likely not be able to climb again for some time, and you should wait until you are fully healed before you attempt to climb again. Always seek advice from a medical professional to determine when you are fit to climb again, even if you think you have fully healed. Better to be safe than sorry.

How to prevent an acute injury

Of course, it is not always possible to prevent an unfortunate accident, but there are things you can do to reduce the risk of an accident occurring.

  • Climb in a careful, controlled way, and be mindful of what you are doing at all times.

  • Always follow the health and safety rules of an indoor climbing centre.

  • Always do buddy checks - get your belay partner to check your knot, harness and any other equipment, and do the same for them.

  • Be careful with your footwork. Slipped feet can cause upper-body injuries. Imagine if your foot suddenly slipped off a hold, the sudden movement would likely cause a big, sharp pull on your arms and shoulder joints.

Chronic Injury

Chronic injuries build up over time, and are the result of repeated stresses and strains on the body. The damage done may not be obvious until something finally snaps.

Think of repeated stresses on the human body like a dropped mobile phone. You’ve dropped it ten times. The phone survived. No visible damage. Then you drop it for the eleventh time and the screen shatters to bits. Why? Repeated stress. Each drop did a small amount of damage, you just couldn’t see it. It’s the same when putting too much stress on your muscles, tendons and tissue through climbing. If you keep on climbing after your arms are sore or your fingers hurt, you could be doing small amounts of damage without knowing it and setting yourself up for an injury in your next climbing session.

The main causes of chronic injuries are: not allowing yourself enough recovery time between climbing sessions, and poor technique.

How to prevent a chronic injury

  • Chronic injuries can be prevented by effective recovery. This means taking enough time to rest and letting your body recover between climbing sessions.

  • Don’t push yourself too hard, and you should never train with tired joints. Learn when to call it a day - you can always come back tomorrow!

  • Vary your training. Professional climbers focus on different areas each day. One day may be focused on strength, the next on endurance and the following on technique.

  • Generally looking after your body - making sure to get enough sleep and eating a healthy, balanced diet - can also help to prevent injuries.

Let’s look at a common chronic injury - a finger pulley injury

Climbing is one of the few sports that puts an enormous amount of pressure on your fingers, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that finger injuries are one of the most common climbing injuries. Pulleys are a piece of tissue that holds the tendon against the bone.

Those new to climbing are most at risk of this injury. Beginners tend to crimp, which puts loads of pressure on pulleys. Additionally, beginners are not used to the strain that climbing puts on your fingers, further increasing the risk. Crimping can be a stronger grip and can make climbing easier, which is why beginners tend to crimp more often than experienced climbers. But crimping too often can progressively weaken pulleys over time. For reference, the image featured at the top of this article shows a crimp. Pulley injuries can take months to recover.

How to prevent a pulley injury

  • Climb with an open hand when possible. Using this technique reduces the pressure on specific points, rather the same amount of pressure will be spread across a wider area.

  • Develop better footwork and use your leg muscles to get upwards movement. This takes the strain off of your arms and shoulders and can help to reduce elbow, finger and shoulder injuries.

General tips for preventing climbing injuries:

  • Keep your fingernails short. If your hand slips off a hold, or you fail to grasp a hold, fingernails can catch and tear.

  • For boulderers - always climb down whenever possible, rather than jumping off the bouldering wall. Jumping off the bouldering wall can sometimes lead to injuries such as a twisted ankle, if you land awkwardly.

Doing your best to prevent a climbing injury means you will spend more time climbing in the long-term. Don’t rush to complete short-term goals and crash out of the game with an injury that could have been prevented.

Often climbers become injured because they push themselves too hard. If you are struggling with a problem route, learn to recognise when the problem is a ‘head game’ - ie. lack of confidence or bad technique - and when the problem is physical - ie. the route is beyond your body’s current capability and more training is required.

We always recommend to warm up before climbing and to start on easier routes, and work your way up to the harder routes. The best way to prevent climbing injuries is to be careful and to listen to your body’s cues.

General body conditioning

There’s not many other sports that compare to climbing. However, if you only climb and nothing else, you can end up with muscle imbalances. See our blog post on how to use the gym to improve your climbing. Training in the gym alongside climbing can be a good way to prevent muscle imbalances.

What to do when injured

The first step is to rest. Take a week or two off climbing, until the immediate affects of the injury pass. For anything serious, see a doctor. If your injury interferes with your daily life or still hurts after a week, always seek advice from a medical professional.

Immediately apply ice to the injury, if possible. You should ice the injury for no more than ten minutes at a time, and make sure to have a fabric barrier (wrap the ice in a tea-towel) between your body and the ice.

The second step is active rest and rehabilitation. Start getting full range of motion in the injured area and work up. If any movement causes pain, stop.

The third step is progressive rehabilitation. Each specific injury has its own set of rehabilitation protocols. Seek advice from an expert, such as a physiotherapist. You may be able to do gentle, gradual exercise, but make sure to take time to rest and always seek advice from a medical professional if you are still experiencing pain.

Try to stay positive when injured. It can be very frustrating and you will, of course, miss climbing. Even professional climbers have to deal with climbing injuries from time to time.

Alex Honnold, who is widely recognised as the world’s best free-solo climber, gives his advice for dealing with injuries in an interview with Brad Stulberg for Outside magazine: “The only thing you can do is be patient and let your body recover. Try to stay engaged and train other parts of the body, like your core or opposing muscles.”

Pain relief in injury management

Pain relief is commonly used to help reduce discomfort during recovery periods and rehabilitation stages. It can help you to get a better night’s sleep if an injury is keeping you awake, and good quality sleep will aid your recovery. However, you should not use painkillers to ‘mask’ pain and try to climb again before you are ready as this may lead to further problems with your injury. After an injury, you should always seek the advice of a medical professional to determine whether you are fit to do a sporting activity.

Vertical Limit owner Dave Brown has been using pain relief patches as a chemical-free alternative to painkillers and medicated creams. The pain relief patches are non-transdermal (do not contain any chemicals or drugs), and instead work by using phototherapy to elevate the peptide GHK-Cu to regenerate stem cells. Some of our customers have reported benefits of pain relief and better sleep. After experiencing a great reduction in pain from a long-term injury after using the patches, Dave now stocks them in the Vertical Limit shop and recommends that customers who have not found painkillers helpful in the past, or are looking for alternative options, to try the patches.

Dave recommends the pain relief patches to help reduce pain during recovery periods, or for ailments such as headaches, muscle aches, and joint soreness, which would often be treated with painkillers. Some of our customers have experienced life-changing results from using the pain relief patch available in our shop, after finding that painkillers and other medicine did not work for them.

The patches are slightly bigger than a 50 pence piece. Image: G. Bull

The patches are slightly bigger than a 50 pence piece. Image: G. Bull

Speak to Dave Brown for more information on pain relief and energy booster patches and for customer testimonials. As with any pain relief product, read and follow the usage instructions, and if you are unsure what pain relief product is suitable for you, speak to your doctor or pharmacist.

We are particularly interested to hear from customers who have tried the energy patch. What were your results?

Full disclaimer:

We are not medical professionals. If you have an injury or are concerned about any injury or ailment, always seek advice from a medical professional.

We recommend seeking the advice of a medical professional to plan your recovery from your specific injury, and to determine when you are fit to climb again after an injury.

If you are considering using a pain relief product, speak to your doctor or pharmacist to determine what is suitable for you and your specific injury or ailment. Anyone taking any prescribed medication should always consult their doctor before using any pain relief product, whether it be painkillers, herbal remedies or any other product.