Rock Climbing Conditioning: Injury Prevention and Management PDF Print E-mail

Rock Climbing Conditioning - Injury Prevention and Management

Column #108, 4th December 2010

Whether we climb, play football or like gardening, staying injury-free is essential for continued participation, performance development and enjoyment.  Like all sports, when climbing indoors, outdoors, sport climbing or bouldering we are subjecting ourselves (body and mind) to specific demands and are therefore at risk to certain types of injuries.  Ideally we prevent them all, but in reality it is essential that we also have effective injury management strategies in place as well.

Climbing Conditioning

As a Corrective Exercise and Strength Coach working with climbers, the focus is often to enable as much climbing training as possible, whilst at the same time conditioning the body by working on muscle imbalances, strength, alignment and recovery strategies for tissue health.  Sometimes more rest and repair is needed.  Although a discussion better left for the climbing forums, the focus in climbing is typically on reaching the summit – getting to the top – and the act of doing so poses challenges and risks.  That is the nature of it.

A winter series of climbing conditioning workshops at Durham Climbing Centre have been addressing these issues to ultimately enhance performance on the rock.  See for a schedule.

A Dangerous Sport?

In his book “One Move Too Many”, Volker Schoeffl describes the developments in the world of sport, free and bouldering climbing and the ever-increasing difficulty in routes from “The Thimble” (1960s), “The Grand Illusion” (1970s) and “The Face” (1980s), together with growing determination, will and competition.  Now there are established European and World Competitions and with it greater involvement and influence of sports medicine.

At the 2010 BMC (British Mountaineering Council) Climbing Injuries Symposium Volker discussed a review of climbing injury risk and demonstrated how it was comparable to many sports.  The take-home message is to be aware of the risks associated to climbing in relation to your strengths and weaknesses, training and conditioning and ability level.  In an analysis of climbing injuries Schoeffl found the following:

  • <80% injuries are upperbody.
  • <50% injuries are in the hands.
  • 8% required surgery for fractures, tendon injuries and nerve compression.
  • The most frequent injury was a pulley rupture (finger connective tissue).
  • Shoulder and feet injuries are on the increase.

Climbing Specific Injuries

So what are climbers most susceptible to? In simple terms we can divide this into acute (instant) and chronic (long-term) injuries.  Acute injuries typically happen quickly and are due to a particular high force, awkward movement, impact or fall.  Here are some examples:

  • Skin Damage
  • Fractures
  • Dislocation
  • Knee Meniscus (Cartilage)
  • Finger Tendon (Pulley System) Strain or Rupture
  • Finger Ligament and Capsular Sprain or Rupture
  • Forearm Muscle and Tendon Strains.

Chronic injuries occur at connective tissues, joints, bones and muscles that are subjected to high physical demand over a long period of time.  Essentially these are overuse injuries – too much play and not enough rest, recovery and repair.  The key to this is balance and when we overload we are at risk from:

  • Tendon Inflammation (tendonitis)
  • Trigger Finger – dysfunctional finger flexion and extension
  • Dupuytren’s Contracture – soft tissue scar on palm
  • Ganglion – liquid filled area around joint capsule or tendon sheath.
  • Myogelosis – increased muscle and tissue tension reducing health of tissue.
  • Swelling of finger joints
  • Finger Arthritis
  • Forearm Functional Compartment Syndrome – stress related pain
  • Elbow Pain  - Lateral and Medial Epicondylitis (tennis and golfer’s elbow)
  • Shoulder Bursitis and Rotator Cuff Impingement
  • Shoulder Instability
  • Nerve Compression Syndromes – Carpal Tunnel, Thoracic Outlet, Supinator and Sulcus Ulnaris Syndromes
  • Spinal Injuries
  • Feet – Hallux vagus, Hallux rigidus and Hammertoes.

Climbing Injuries Workshop – 15th December 2010

You are invited to attend the Climbing Conditioning Workshop – Climbing Injuries 101 on 15th December 2010 at the Durham Climbing Centre.  Gain further insight into existing injuries and implement strategies to prevent them.  Book Your Place:

£10 Entry (includes evening’s climbing) | 7.00pm to 8.30pm

Durham Climbing Centre: Unit 2 St John’s Rd | Meadowfield Industrial Estate | Durham | DH7 8TZ

info (at) | 0191 3789555 |

Injury Prevention and Management Strategies

You will already have various methods to reduce the risk of or to treat an injury.  However, are these the most effective methods, can we add anything to the mix, are we prepared for all eventualities.  Take the opportunity to add to what you already do.  Stay tuned for following articles on specific Injury Prevention and Management Strategies for climbers.

Climbing Conditioning Videos:  Functional Health and Performance - YouTube Channel

Buy: Foam Rollers for Self Myofascial Release

Jack Walton
Written on Friday, 24 September 2010 15:49 by Jack Walton

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