Many rock climbers suffer from injuries, and try to climb through the pain. We’re going to discuss four common climbing injuries and what you can do to prevent them! They are Lateral Epicondylitis, Shoulder Impingement, Forward Posture (or Climber’s Posture), and Annular Ligaments.
The Four Common Climbing Injuries
One common injury among climbers is lateral epicondylitis. This is an irritation, inflammation, and break down of tendons that attach to the outside of the elbow. These muscles extend the wrist and fingers. You might be thinking that it’s weird that these extensor muscles get injured in a sport that demands near constant flexion. When you climb these extensor muscles are working the whole time your flexors are and they’re working harder! Your extensor muscles are contracting at a lengthened positions and helping to control the movements of your hand! This lengthened position puts extra stress on the tendons, which can lead to an overuse injury. This injury can cause pain that lasts months and can keep you from sending your projects!
What can you do about it?
- Stretching the flexors and extensors is relatively straightforward and easy to perform. Start by placing your arm at approximately shoulder height and keep your elbow straight. Position your palm facing up then use the opposite hand to bend your wrist in a downward motion. Your palm will end up facing away from your body. Hold for 20 seconds.
- Next, start in the same shoulder and elbow position but with your palm facing down. Use your opposite hand to bend your wrist in a downward motion. This will place your palm facing you. Hold for 20 seconds.
- This stretch can be modified by making a fist. This lengthens the tendons further thus creating a little bit different of a stretch
- Another important factor to preventing lateral epicondylitis is to increase the resiliency of those tendons and tissues. This is accomplished by a targeted and gradual loading using light weights. In fact, soup cans work wonderfully for this!
- Rest your arm on a table or armrest of a chair with your wrist hanging off the edge, palm facing down. Grab a soup can and extend your wrist upwards then SLOWLY lower your wrist back down. Moving slowly is the key to this exercise so an easy way to ensure this is to take 2 seconds to raise up then 4 seconds to lower down.
Let’s talk about shoulder impingement. Among climbers, it’s a common condition. Symptoms include pain in front or side of shoulder joint, pain with reaching overhead and across the body, pain with pressure along the shoulder joint. This occurs when the tendons get pinched or impinged by the bony surfaces in our shoulder. This can happen due to poor mechanics, inflammation that decreases the space for our tendons, repetitive overhead activities, etc.
What can you do about it?
- Shoulder hurdles, I’s, Y’s, T’s
- The scapula and humerus work as a team in a specific, well coordinated rhythm to ensure proper shoulder movement. Unfortunately, the scapula muscles are commonly overlooked in strength routines as they don’t produce a lot of power. BUT, they are KEY stabilizers of the shoulder complex. Basically, they are the unsung heroes necessary for healthy and strong shoulders.
- We know that strengthening the scapula muscles often helps improve impingement and decrease the pain associated with it. Shoulder hurdles and I’s, Y’s, and T’s are great exercises to target these muscles and let me tell you, it doesn’t take much to give them a workout. Show some love to those unsung heroes and add these exercises into your strength workout. Your shoulders will thank you for it!
Forward Posture (or Climber’s Posture)
Climbers are notorious for having forward posture. Especially you guys out there! As climbers we have forced our bodies to act like monkeys and now we sit and stand like them too. Climbers typically have really strong lats and tight pecs, which can make us look hunch backed. The repetitive pulling with our arms and lack of pushing lead to muscle imbalance. Additionally, our postural muscles like our rhomboids aren’t working too hard during climbing and can become weak if not being trained…And the muscle imbalance continues. These muscle imbalances can lead to injury and pain if not corrected. Curious to learn more about posture? Check out this post!
What can you do about it?
- Prone y’s
- Similar to shoulder hurdles and I”s, Y’s, and T’s, this exercise helps strengthen a muscle attached to the scapular. Prone Y’s are a little more difficult than a standing Y because you are moving against gravity (every climber’s worst enemy). They target the often neglected lower trapezius. Don’t expect a ton of ROM, especially if you are lying flat and keep those thumbs up for a more comfortable movement! Try the prone Y’s to keep you standing tall even on a high gravity day! 😉
- Scap retractions
- Scapular retractions are a staple in the physical therapy world and they should be one in the climbing world as well! Climbers tend to slouch and round they’re shoulders forward because their lats and pecs are tight, and maybe they’re tuckered out from all that pulling. Scapular retractions help to pull those shoulder blades back to a more neutral position and promote better scapulohumeral rhythm! So whether you’re sending 5.13s, just learning to climb, or anywhere in between you could probably benefit from scapular retractions.
- Pec stretch
- If you’ve been following along with us this month, we’ve mentioned that climber’s commonly have tight pec muscles.
Climbers! Have you ever wondered why it feels better to have tape on your wrist and fingers when you climb? The demand on our finger flexors is huge! These little muscles are pulling so hard that they can damage ligaments that hold the tendons close to the bone. This is one of the most common climbing injuries! When we damage these ligaments they can be painful and less effective. Taping along those injured ligaments allows some of the stress to be put on the tape rather than the ligaments. The tape helps hold those tendons closer to the bones of the hand, giving you more of a mechanical advantage. Most commonly injured are the Annular ligaments located at and in between the knuckles of our hands.
- Open hand crimping
- Crimping puts a lot of stress on our fingers, especially the ligaments of our proximal interphalangeal (PIP) joints. Ligaments function to provide support for our joints and hold the tendons close to the bone. When our fingers are in a lot of flexion the stress from the tendon is increased. With open hand crimping, our finger joints are in a more neutral position, lessening the force on the ligament. Crimping is a vital part of climbing and is an extremely useful hold technique to keep you moving up the wall. However if you find yourself on crimpy routes a lot, think about trying to incorporate more open hand crimps when you can or hopping on more variable routes to give those ligaments a break and minimizing the stress on your annular ligaments.
Want to see these exercises in action?
Check out this video to see these exercises to help prevent common climbing injuries.