In a sport such as climbing, injuries are commonplace and even attempting easy climbs can cause injury if you are not properly warmed up. While there aren’t many resources available that discuss the topic in any detail, we can recommend The Rock Climber’s Training Manual by the Anderson Brothers. There is a lot of great information in this book from injury prevention to resting, rehabilitation, training for skill and even base fitness.
So what can we do to help avoid injuries?
One of the fundamental areas is accepting when to REST and it can be one of the hardest decisions to make as it means NO CLIMBING. None. Nessuno. Ninguno. Hakuna. Climbers can often see/feel chronic injuries coming from kilometres away, yet like watching a train wreck we just keep pushing. If you listen to your body, detect an issue and act quickly, injuries can be successfully managed and often prevented. Specifically you should be looking for:
- Stiff/achy joints
- Swollen joints
- Acute pain in any climbing-specific joint (regardless of whether you are climbing or not)
- Reduced joint flexibility
- Unusual lumps or protrusions
- Twinges in muscles or ligaments
- Any tingling sensations (fingers, forearms, elbows or shoulders)
Eliminating inactive joint stress is also key to avoiding an injury. Inactive joint stress occurs when limbs and joints are placed in stressful orientations when not being used. For example if you sit with bad posture, your back muscles and spinal column are at risk.
Stretching is also a fantastic tool that is horribly underutilized by most climbers. Stretching your forearm extensors and flexors evenly when you are climbing but also when you are not climbing is incredibly helpful. When you are doing this, make sure you focus on stretching individual fingers.
Massage treatment is great for recovery and if you focus on your forearms and back muscles frequently enough your body will thank you.
Icing is another good tool and is superb for beating climbers elbow. Most of the muscles that control finger and wrist flexion attach to the bony lump on the inside of your elbow via a common tendon. If this tendon is not capable of withstanding the forces generated by the muscles anchored to it, the tendon becomes damaged and may develop into tendonitis. Submerge the forearm in ice-water for 10 minutes after any workout but make sure you do this last!
Antagonistic training is also a method for helping to balance muscle groups in your body as climbing generally over develops certain muscles.
Finally, some acute and overuse injuries can be avoided with preventative taping before training and/or climbing. Taping helps to support the pulleys, which are ligaments that hold the flexor tendons in place and allow joint movement. However do not rely on this technique to prevent injury. If the movement or stress is too great you can injure yourself; so again listen to your body. You can find many different taping methods online or in the Anderson Brothers book.