The Most Common Rock Climbing Injuries

Being injured sucks!

Not only do we suffer the pain of the injury, but injuries often keep us from doing things that we enjoy, like climbing!  This series of articles is meant to help you understand the most common rock climbing over-use injuries, how to avoid them, and how to recover from them if you happen to experience one of them.

First, let me distinguish between over-use injuries from climbing injuries that happen from accidents. Climbing is a dangerous sport and has inherent risks. Accidents while climbing can cause bumps, bruises, sprain, broken bones, or even death. These injuries result from many causes and are beyond the scope of these articles. The only advice I can give on this topic is to learn about climbing safety from a trained professional, such as an AMGA certified guide, and be ever vigilant about staying safe while climbing.

The focus of this series of articles is over-use injuries that result from using various parts of your body while climbing. Over-use injuries can be further categorized as being acute or chronic. Acute injuries result from the failure of some sort of tissue due to forces beyond what it can safely handle. Acute injuries often occur suddenly and sometimes are accompanied by an unpleasant popping sound. You often know when you get an acute injury because of a sudden pain, a sudden sound, or a sudden loss of control or strength.

Chronic injuries by contrast, develop more gradually due to repetitive stress on your body. They can result from repeated stress on soft tissues where micro-tears develop and cause inflammation. They can also result from muscles getting out of balance, putting stress on tendons which become inflamed. Chronic injuries can sneak up on you. You may initially feel some small twinges or numbness, which if not headed, can worsen into a debilitating injury. If you get an injury that you are concerned about, please see your physician. This article is not a replacement for receiving proper medical care and is meant to educate you so that you can make decisions on how to take care of yourself.

There are many types of over-use injuries that climber experience, but I will focus on the top three most common injuries, as these are very common. If you climb for five years or more, you are likely to experience one of these injuries.

According to an article by Doran and Reay, titled “Injuries and associated training and performance characteristics in recreational rock climbers” (ISBN 0-7360-3106-5), the most common climbing over-use injuries occur in the:

  • Finger injuries – 40%
  • Shoulders – 16%
  • Elbows – 12%

In articles to follow in coming weeks, I will give more insight into the most common injuries that rock climbers suffer in each of theses three areas, how to avoid them, and some general information about how they are typically treated.

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