Most common climbing injuries: I don't have actual stats on this, but based on my experience as a climber and a coach, I'd put finger injuries, elbow injuries, shoulder injuries, and possibly sprained ankles at the top of the list. The sprained ankles most often occur while bouldering, and are typically the result of landing on an uneven surface. The only I can say about that is that it's very important to pay attention to your landing, particularly buy modafinil your crashpad placement, and make sure your spotter (if you have one) is competent. Note that sometimes it's better not to have a spotter all - especially if you have a nice open flat landing surface beneath you, and you're attempting a move that will cause you to swing out and possibly land on your spotter. I've seen people sprain ankles because their spotter actually got in the way!
As for the elbow and shoulder injuries, these are commonly a result of overuse. Climbers often develop nagging symptoms that are similar to tennis-elbow and usually caused by a form of tendonitis. Finger injuries may also be related to overuse, but often occur quickly, in the middle of a move when your tendons and pulleys are maxed out. All of these types of injuries are less likely to occur when climbers adhere to the following guidelines with regard to health and training.
- Always get a good warm-up during each climbing or training session. Mine usually consists of 30-ish minutes of medium-intensity cardio or calisthenics, plus at least 30 more minutes of easy to moderate climbing. That's before I even start trying to climb anything hard. Of course that usually makes for pretty long sessions, and I've made a real effort to arrange my weekly schedule so that I can have several hours at a time to devote to climbing. When I have only an hour or so to climb, I usually forego the cardio, start instead with 10 or 15 minutes of calisthenics and Gripstik (keep reading for more info on that), then climb at a warm-up intensity for the rest of my session. If I only have an hour, I never try to send a project. I realize that part of this is because I've been climbing like this for a long time and have the stamina to sustain really long workouts. It's also because I'm 35 and my body just doesn't like jumping into something sick in the first 10 minutes of a session anymore, in spite of how well I take care of it. Also, as a woman I really pay attention to my joints - women typically have more flexible joints and a higher pain tolerance than men, so we can easily put ourselves at risk without adequate warm-up. The bottom line here is to find the appropriate intensity and length of warm-up that works best for you and do your best never to bypass it.
Oh, the Gripstik. This is one of the best products I can recommend to any climber. I have been using it regularly for over 10 years, and nearly every one of my clients, friends and training partners uses it too. It's a forearm trainer, and in my opinion is outstanding for avoiding and healing elbow overuse issues. Regular use of a Gripstik will strengthen and balance the flexor and extensor muscles of the forearm, which is crucial to maintaining healthy wrists and elbows. Redpoint Nutrition sells this product (because I asked them to!), so look for it on the site here. Another product that Redpoint carries that I highly recommend is Traumeel Gel. Traumeel is a natural anti-inflammatory and is amazing at speeding recovery and helping to prevent injury to the soft tissues. I use it on sore muscles and on any little tweaks I might feel after training to keep them from growing into larger issues.
Maintain good nutrition & hydration. I personally take daily supplementation, including a joint complex that includes glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, omega-3 and calcium, (Nutriex Sport is a great one, and it also contains a ton of Vitamins and Minerals), and I use Crank - I really like it for its Vitamin B - for recovery. An athlete should easily drink 8 glasses of water per day, more when training, and follow sound nutrition guidelines when making food choices. See Week 1 of this series for ideas on good nutrition.
Get adequate rest. Ok, this one's a big one. I've learned over the years that rest consists of 3 major categories for climbers: 1) sleep, 2) days off between climbing/training days and 3) days of true rest from all the forms of stress in your life. First of all, we all know we should be getting roughly 8 hours of sleep per night. Different people require different durations of sleep; I know I feel my best when I can average 8-9 hours per night so I've done my best to create a schedule for myself that allows this. Try recording your sleep, energy levels and climbing performance for a couple months and look for patterns. This will help you determine the amount of sleep you really need; then it's up to you to take control of your schedule to give yourself the nightly rest you require. Then there is the rest you take between training/climbing days. The older I get, the more rest I feel that I need, and this encourages me to go harder on my training days. I make the most of my training sessions and take adequate rest in between (see last week's post, "Endurance Training Part II", for my complete schedule) so that my body is challenged differently from day to day and the rest I take is meaningful. Finally, take some "true rest" days. I've learned that a true rest day is more than a day when I don't climb. It's a day when I don't climb, run, or strength train, or even work, clean the house, or generally stress about anything. Set aside an occasional day for yourself to truly lounge, read, watch movies, go for an easy walk, soak in the bath, sleep in front of the fireplace, whatever. We all need days that allow us to relax and take a break from any stresses and responsibilities. It's sometimes hard to fit them in, but I promise that when you make the effort you'll feel very refreshed and rewarded.
I recently had the misfortune to experience first-hand what happens when I don't take my own advice. Several weeks had gone by in which I was working a lot, taking on a new (work-related) project, and generally not getting enough rest. I could really feel it taking its toll a little more each day. Then one night I was training on my wall, climbing a problem I've climbed many times before, and felt 3 distinct pops in my left pinky finger. Ah, the quintessential "pinky finger" that not many people would worry too much about, except for us climbers. (My non-climber clients actually thought I was being silly to worry so much about an injured pinky, of all things.) In any case, 6 weeks later I am just now beginning to climb again, and am pretty much just trying to very slowly rehab the finger through the tendonitis which developed as a result of the initial injury - which turned out to likely be small tearing in several fibers of the deep flexor tendon. It's important to know that this was not an old injury that was fragile and prone to re-injury. I was not attempting an exceptionally risky move with which I was unfamiliar. I take very good care of my body, my fingers in particular, and I am really convinced that my lack of sleep and increased stress caused me to be vulnerable to injury. I tell you this story not to scare you or make you feel that injury is just a move away, but to stress the importance of rest and relaxation in your life.
- Listen to your body. Those little tweaks that creep in once in awhile are warning signs that you really need to listen to. They are often your first sign that an overuse injury is brewing. No matter how hard we try, little aches and pains are bound to find their way into our joints and muscles. When you feel them, pay attention. Take an extra rest day, make an effort to increase your sleep over the next few nights, look at your hydration and nutrition, or seek treatment from your doctor, chiropractor, acupuncturist, massage therapist - whoever you trust to set you straight.