Updated: Feb 15
The state of Washington is known for its breathtaking landscapes, picturesque mountains, peaceful lakes, and gigantic towering trees; it's no wonder why Washington residents and tourists alike flock to the outdoors whenever they can.
Indoor and outdoor rock climbing is gaining more and more traction in America every day, with the award-winning documentaries, Free Solo and The Alpinist, as well as the introduction of climbing in the 2020 Olympics, the last few years have been huge for climbing. Seattle also happens to be the birthplace of the first climbing gym in the nation, Vertical World, and we want to make sure our Seattleites are enjoying this hobby safely.
Climbing can test all areas of your body by challenging your flexibility, strength, endurance, balance, and agility. Due to this sport's emphasis on the whole body, injury can happen easily and often.
What Causes Climbing Injuries?
Injuries can happen to new and seasoned climbers, especially in a sport involving strenuous activity and requiring proper technique. According to the Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, climbing-related injuries have steadily increased as the popularity of the sport grew. The journal also states that falls are the leading cause of injury in outdoor climbing, while in indoor climbing, dynamic moves caused the most cases. Although indoor climbing is much safer in comparison to outdoor due to crash pads, supervision, and safety precautions, this can lead to climbers attempting routes beyond their abilities and repeating the same taxing movements frequently. A study reports that 75-90% of rock climbers will experience overuse injuries and that the most common injuries occur in the elbow, wrist, forearm, and hand. Repetitive movements can cause added stress to tendons, ligaments, and joints, especially in bouldering where there isn't extra support from a rope or harness. Needless to say, it's easy to strain or stress your muscles when climbing, but there are ways to prevent climbing injuries which we will get into later.
Common Climbing Injuries
As mentioned earlier, many rock climbers will suffer overuse injuries, mostly in the upper extremities.
Finger Pulley Strain/Rupture
Finger pulley injuries are one of the most common injuries in climbing because of the strain your fingers are under when gripping holds, especially the crimp handholds (small holds with only enough space for fingertips). Finger pulleys are responsible for holding the tendon to the bone, and if a pulley is strained or even ruptured, bowstringing can occur, causing pain and stiffness in the affected finger. The best way to prevent finger pulley injuries is to build up your finger strength and if you start to feel pain, take a break from climbing until it feels better.
Rotator Cuff Tears
Rotator cuff injuries happen quite often to climbers because of frequent overhead reach and pulling movements. Climbers reach for holds either above their head or to the side and pull their body up, causing stress on the muscles. Rotator cuff tears can decrease your range of motion, and strength, and cause dull and sharp pain. The best way to prevent shoulder injuries is to make sure to warm up and cool down by stretching and performing proper movements to not overextend your arm.
You may have heard of tennis elbow or golfer's elbow, but climbers can also experience elbow pain! A climber's elbow is essentially the same as a golfer's elbow, as it is a pain on the inside of the elbow that migrates to the wrist due to climbers constantly flexing and contracting their arm muscles. Prevention of this injury can include strengthening your forearm, making sure to stretch, and maintaining correct form.
Meniscus tears happen in the lower leg and can be felt by pain on the inside, outside, or back of the knee, along with swelling and the inability to extend or bend the knee fully. This can happen when climbers utilize the drop knee technique, which puts most of your body weight onto one leg while extending your body to reach a hold. Whenever you twist or turn your leg while pressure is applied, there is a chance for strain, so the best way to prevent that is to strengthen your leg muscles, warm up with stretching, and rest when needed.
The best way to prevent climbing injuries is to make sure you're stretching and performing proper technique! Implementing a warm-up and cool-down routine is also a great way to prepare your muscles for a session and to help them recover after. However, if you do end up getting injured, the best recovery method is through physical therapy to make sure you not only heal but learn the proper movements to prevent future injuries.
Interested in Physical Therapy?
Rehab United Seattle will get to the root cause of your condition to improve function, and restore flexibility and mobility. We are committed to helping each patient reach their goals with customized programs and excellent care. Request an appointment today!
Ariela Liberman is a Marketing Associate and a staff writer for Rehab United, with a Bachelor of Arts in Media Studies. Born and raised in San Diego, she is a Southern California native with a passion for writing, digital marketing, health, and wellness.