When we think of climbing injuries images of falling, tumbling down a boulder and taking big run out whips come to mind. The occurrence of injury in climbing is high especially if you get more and more involved in the sport. One research paper in Canada surveyed 148 climbers of which 49 reported an injury as a result from climbing. However, of those who responded only 18% of the injuries were from traumatic fall. The majority of injuries were actually overuse injuries.
So how can we make ourselves less at risk? No one wants an injury to set them back from climbing goals. Understanding risk factors for climbing injury can help athletes be aware while training and mitigate controllable factors. Research by Backe, Ericson, Janson & Timpka (2009) looked at what factors increase injury rate and identified the following:
- Frequency of climbing: With an increase exposure to sport (simply climbing more) the chance of injury or overload is higher. If you climb more days in the week you also reduce recover periods which is a risk factor for overload injuries such as elbow tendinopathy. See our other blog on climbers’ elbow for more info.
- Climbing above one’s skill level: Climbers old and new get really excited to train and send. Sometimes we get caught up in “chasing grades.” A new high point in climbing leads to seeking out other more challenging climbs. However, if skill has not caught up to the psych we see more injury occurring. Newer climbers exhibiting novice technique will over grip holds, climb with excessively bent elbows that put unnecessary load on part of the body that aren’t use to be loaded. It is essential to train technique with same diligence as strength.
- Higher climbing level: As climbing difficulty increases the complexity and challenge of movement also increases. As we move into harder grades the body is demanded to pull on smaller holds, cut feet, throw to further holds and twist in new ways. This puts high load on elbows, shoulders and fingers. Time and attention need to be made to prepare the body for more complex movement through comprehensive strength training.
- Bouldering: The discipline of boulder is an excellent training tool as it compacts difficult moves into a small space. In sport climbing you can often climb a few meters before the “crux” where difficulty turns up. Bouldering is hard for the few meters it takes to complete. While this is a great training tool and sport on its own, it is essential to take breaks between boulders as well as adequately warm up.
- Inadequate warm up and over training: Surprise, surprise, you’ve heard it before that warming up is key to prevent injury but in climbing even more so. You might be able to get away with a jog without warming up but climbing put excessive load on finger tendons and they need to be warm and activated before pulling onto projects.
Climbing is an emerging field and research is not as robust as other sports. However, understanding ways to prevent injury will allow you to train through the seasons and send your next project. If you have a climbing injury and are local to Sydney I would love to help.
Injuries associated with rock climbing. Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy
Backe, S., Ericson, L., Janson, S., & Timpka, T. (2009). Rock climbing injury rates and associated risk factors in a general climbing population. Scandinavian journal of medicine & science in sports, 19(6), 850-856.