We’ve teamed up with PhysioFit as our sole physiotherapy provider at Rainbow Rocket.
Meet the team
Alex Howarth, senior Physiotherapist, a keen climber and Mountaineer is on hand should you need to see him at both locations. Alex is a regular at Rainbow Rocket and you can read what Alex has to say on climbing injuries below.
Special rates for all Rainbow Rocket members!
All of our members receive 10% off when they book online. Please contact a member of the Rainbow Rocket staff for your discount code to book online via the website.
Climbing: common injuries and how you can avoid them
Over the last few decades, climbing has greatly increased in popularity, with more and more people choosing to take it up both in climbing gyms and in the great outdoors. We chat to physiotherapist, Alex, about potential tendon problems and what you can do to reduce your risk of injury.
Tendon problems are by far the most common injury I see in climbers.
Tendons are fibrous bands that connect muscles to bone, which are capable of dealing with very high loads. A tendinopathy is the failed healing response of a tendon.
Climbers often experience pain from tendon injuries in the shoulders, elbows and fingers. Tendons, much like muscles and bones, will adapt to the amount of load placed upon them. As more force is applied, they will gradually strengthen to cope with the increased demand. The body can adapt to deal with large loads, as long as the load is increased incrementally over a period of months. However, if there is more force placed on the tendon at a faster rate than it can strengthen, a state of overload arises. This results in the tendon being unable to cope with the demand and the risk of injury rises sharply.
Three factors which could increase your risk of injury
Injury usually happens for one (or more) of three reasons:
1) There has been a sudden increase in intensity.
If you go from training once or twice a week to training four or five times a week, without gradual progression, your tendons will not have enough time to adapt.
This is easily done as a new and exuberant climber! It is recommended to climb no more than two to three times a week initially, in order to allow sufficient recovery time. It is common to feel achy and sore after climbing; ensure that you wait until this has settled down before training again. As you find that your body starts to recover more quickly, you can then start gradually adding in more sessions.
2) Technique is often a factor.
Many people, even experienced climbers, overuse their upper bodies and generate most of their momentum by pulling up with their arms, rather than transferring their weight and using their, far more powerful, legs. A coaching session can help to pinpoint areas where you are working too hard, reducing your risk of injury and allowing you to climb more efficiently for longer.
3) Muscle imbalances or weakness.
If you have weakness in some areas, this can mean that the body has to compensate with other muscles. Over time, this may result in those areas working too hard, which could lead to overuse injuries. Commonly, I see people with weakness in the back of the shoulder, which means that they have to grip harder and overuse the muscles in their forearm and hand.
A far rarer but more serious issue, is the risk of tears to the tendon and pulley system in your fingers. This is most common in the ‘crimp grip’, where there is a huge load going through a very small handhold. This places an enormous strain on the tendons in your fingers.
It’s vital to allow enough time for your tendons to strengthen
As discussed earlier, even these high loads are not a problem, as long as the tendons are allowed adequate time to strengthen. Finger boards and other finger strengthening techniques should be used sparingly in the early stages. Climbing will strengthen the fingers early on and only once progress has started to plateau, should more specific finger exercises be considered.
Listen to your body
As with all exercise, it’s vital to listen to your body when climbing. A few aches and a little muscle soreness for a day or two after intense exercise is normal, especially if it’s a new activity.
Sharp and prolonged pains are indicative of something more serious and are worth having checked out by a physiotherapist. As always, prevention is better than cure. So, if you’re unsure on your technique, a coaching session can be very useful. A physiotherapist can also look at whether you have any areas that are a potential risk for injury.