Dealing With a Climbing Injury

josh at night

Although we all love climbing, we can all admit there are ways it can be risky. Climbing injuries like hurt ankles, wrists, pulleys, and shoulder damage can be fairly common. When you are making progress, getting ready for a competition, or desiring your next climbing trip, injuries can be really frustrating, upsetting, and disappointing. People react to climbing injuries in a number of different ways. Some people, unfortunately, give up climbing altogether. Others give up climbing while injured, then return and deal with any loses to their climbing ability. When I was injured, I started training.

Do keep in mind that my injury was an ankle injury, and training was still very possible. You might be able to find ways to work around shoulder, wrist, and finger injuries, but it could also be better to just wait for them to heal. When I hurt my ankle, I couldn’t climb. I also didn’t want to do anything that could put me at risk for falling on it such as a campus board. Instead I did finger and shoulder training using a hangboard and dumbbells. Training these helped because I stayed strong and returned to climbing at pretty close to the same level I left it. It also helped because I could go to the gym to do these and still keep in touch with my climbing friends and the atmosphere. Sometimes feeling out of the loop with our social scene can make a return more frustrating and difficult than it should be. It can also make not climbing feel harder.

You can always work on the areas that aren’t injured to help keep them strong in some way. You can work out your legs if your hands or shoulders are injured. You can work out your shoulders if your ankle or legs are injured. This will give you a way to feel like you are still doing something and it will be one less weakness to work on when you get back into it. It doesn’t necessarily have to be climbing related.

When I started to heal a little and felt comfortable doing so, I started doing one footed top roping. I would climb with both hands and only the healthy foot. I could only climb really easy climbs, but without the foot, they felt much more challenging. It actually made climbs below my level interesting and fun. In fact, people who watched me do it did it themselves just for fun. I saw all sorts of people trying one footed climbs in the time I was doing it. It made me feel great. Even though I wasn’t climbing as well, I still had something fun and interesting to do and people wanted to do it with me. If you hurt one hand, you could easily do one handed top roping too. I recommend the top rope part so you are much less likely to take a bad fall. I have seen pros do this with really easy sport climbs, but for me that didn’t seem wise. It is up to where you are with your climbing and comfort level.

I also focused on practicing my photography. This way, as long as the hike wasn’t too bad, I could still go with people to the climbing areas and have a way to engage with the sport. I highly recommend finding ways to keep engaged in the sport. Whether it be from climbing videos, writing, photography, watching others climb, training, or making sure you can get together with your climbing buddies post climb for a meal, finding ways to stay involved makes you feel better. Most people who climb, spend a good amount of time climbing. Having an injury may feel like a huge chunk of their life that has been lost. You don’t have as much to do, you don’t see the same people, and you feel out of touch. Finding ways to stay engaged helps your mind keep in perspective that this is just a short term thing and you will be back to climbing in no time. It helps you keep a sense of still being involved and active.

josh bishop

It also helps some people to get really active in something they love as much as climbing but didn’t have as much time to do. I love writing as much as climbing, so it was nice to have some extra time to write when everyone I knew was outside on the weekend. It might be a good time to visit family, catch up with non climbing friends, or learn a new hobby you’ve been wanting to try.

It is important to think of what could have prevented the injury, as well. Don’t blame yourself or dwell on this, but learn from it. When I hurt my ankle, it was doing a competition. I had been sick for a week prior to the competition and was getting very frustrated with how weak I was. I was trying to push myself and not paying close enough attention to what my body was saying. My body was getting frustrated and telling me it was time to just take a break and cool down. My mind was determined and went for this climb over and over because I knew I could get it. When I fell, I fell right on my ankle.

In the Warrior’s Way Clinic we learned it is important to be calm when falling because your body will be loose and fold into the fall. I was anything but calm so my body fell tense and rigid making the impact really hard and causing injury. It is important to listen to your body and stay calm. If ever I was in this situation again, I would want to just call it a night and say better luck next time rather than hurting myself.

Another injury I had was due to the mat not being in the right place when I fell. This has taught me the importance of being aware of my surroundings, paying attention to where I may fall, and getting spotters. When you fall you can’t really control where you land. However, you can map out ahead of time where you could fall and make sure you are covered at all angles. It is important to think of our safety first and what will make our climb run smoothly.

Josh bouldering

Once your injury has healed, try to do things to strengthen the injury area. Since I hurt my ankle, I have been very interested in activities that strengthen ankles such as lateral jumps. Once you significantly hurt an area, it is prone to get weaker and injured again. It is important to take care of this instead of just forgetting about it once it feels better. If you hurt your shoulders, you can do light dumbbell workouts that strengthen them again. There are also wrist workouts and finger workouts. Be careful not to over do it of course. These work outs should be very gentle and completely strain free. Really all workouts should, but particularly to an area that could get hurt again. The reason for strengthening them is prevention. You want to try to prevent them from being easily injured again in the future.

You want to be careful with them, even if they feel healed. My ankle keeps feeling fine and I think I’m all better. Then something a little straining like a long walk, a little slip, or a bad movement, and all that pain comes back. You must be careful because an injury could feel better but still be healing. It is important to take progress with it slowly and cautiously. At any warning sign, stop and just let it be.

Work on preventing the problem if you can as well. Since one of my injuries came from falling wrong, it was important for me to practice falling right, taking the right safety precautions, and setting up mats well. For something that resulted from a fall, it is very important to take practice falls regardless of what your ability was because you can easily get too scared to climb or fall. The first few months after my first injury I would only climb things I could easily down climb. Some of this was logical so I wouldn’t get hurt, but some of it was just the fear taking over. It was important that I start taking falls so that I could progress again. I made sure the mats were in the right place and often double stacked. I made sure I had a spotter even for a simple fall. I climbed up a couple holds and fell. Then I climbed a couple more and fell. I kept doing this until I was to the top.

An important thing to remember is you don’t want to force yourself higher before you feel comfortable. I went a little higher because I felt very comfortable with the fall I had taken. If you are scared to go higher, keep falling lower until you are okay. Change the mats if they feel wrong, and think about how you are falling. The reason you don’t want to push past your fear without being ready is because as I said earlier falling when tense could result in injury more so than falling loosely. It is important to be able to take deep breaths, let go with your elbows and knees slightly bent, and look to where you will fall. Doing these practice falls will probably feel awkward, scary, or time consuming at first, but they really do help. I did these practice falls and before I knew it, I was ready to fall anywhere again. I still down climb when I can to avoid any chances of injury, but if I can’t then I can’t.

Most importantly you want to keep yourself confident, healthy, and ready to get back to it once you are healed. When you are healed, give yourself a break for any lack of progression or for getting worse. You got better once and you can do it again. This time it will come back faster because you will know how to get there. Climb with people who are supportive and understand you’ve been out of it for a while because they will be respectful and helpful so you feel good. Remember to just have fun and that is why you really love this.

Greg Shyloski photo

Greg Shyloski photo


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