Rock climbing is one of the most exhilarating and rewarding sports there is, giving you the opportunity to scale seemingly impossible peaks and battle fears of falling, whether in the great outdoors or at a dedicated climbing centre.
However, as with any sport, it isn’t without its risk of accident or injury. Indeed, injuries can be particularly common among rock climbers as it can test almost every part of the body in different ways. In this blog, we’ll explore the most common types of injury to occur, look at a range of climbing injury protection exercises, and look at why the risk of injury means that rock climbing insurance is essential.
What types of rock-climbing injuries are most common?
In theory, rock climbers can suffer from just about every sport or active-related injury you can think of. But a few stand out as being particularly common, and they tend to affect five areas of the body:
Climbers have to routinely move their arms at different angles, including over their heads, and stretch out as far as they can reach to grab onto different grips and holds. This makes shoulders especially vulnerable to injuries, such as a rotator cuff tear, where the cartilage at the top of the arm is damaged, making it especially painful in the muscles and tendons to lift your arm.
Ankles are at risk of a variety of different injuries. At a basic level, falling and landing awkwardly can cause ankle sprains or even fractures. But rolling feet inwards and causing inversion injuries are common in climbers that wear small shoes so that their feet are forcibly curved inwards. Any sudden impact or even high force being put through the ankle can do significant damage.
Each of your wrists contains a triangular fibrocartilage complex that keeps your body stable when your hand is reaching out or your body is rotating. As these are common body movements in climbing, the TFCC is at strong risk of being torn. At the same time, jagged rock faces can also cause cuts, bruises and grazes to wrists, making them bleed, perhaps even fracturing them.
Fingers have to take a lot of weight frequently during climbing – much more than they normally tend to do. As a result, tendons get overloaded and pulley tears often take place, especially among climbers who train on a regular basis and/or who take on technically complex climbs. Because fingers get a relatively low amount of blood flow, these injuries can take an especially long time to heal.
You’ve probably noticed that tendons have already been mentioned in this guide a few times, and the inflammation of tendons (often known as tendonitis) is entirely possible for climbers across multiple parts of their bodies. Forearm tendon injuries are particularly commonplace, but it’s not unusual for climbers to feel swelling or difficulty moving any of their limbs at any joints as a result of tendonitis.
Preventing rock climbing injuries from occurring
While it’s impossible to completely eliminate the risk of these injuries, there is plenty you can do to strengthen your body and build up resilience in places, so that at least the risk is minimised. We recommend exploring the following exercises and practices for each of the five common injury areas:
Shoulders: muscle strength exercises
Stronger muscles will be more resilient to all the rigours of climbing, and the exercises needed in the shoulder area will be common to most regular gym users. Internal and external rotation both help, as can using objects like gym balls and resistance bands to further strengthen the shoulders. Additionally, you shouldn’t overlook the value of good technique, so spending some time researching how the pros move can reduce the risk of shoulder injury even further.
Wrists: care and conditioning
The first thing to say about wrist injuries is that however trivial you may think they are, trying to climb through the pain is always a bad idea and will make the problem worse. Along with this common-sense approach, exploring exercises that flex, rotate and extend the wrists will ensure that they’re more capable of dealing with all of the movement that climbing demands of them.
Ankles: building up resistance
Resistance bands are relatively inexpensive pieces of equipment that can be incredibly valuable in helping protect ankles from the risk of injury. Focusing on exercises that promote good lateral stability should be your focus, including eversion, inversion and dorsiflexion, because of the range of movements required. Just a few minutes with the resistance band each day can make a major difference.
Fingers: warming up properly
Climbers that cut corners when warming up before a climb leave themselves especially vulnerable to injuries in the fingers. Even if the warm-up isn’t directly related to the fingers (such as light running or time on an exercise bike) they can make the tendons within the finger feel more flexible. This can then be combined with some stretches that give you even more flexibility in the fingers.
Tendons: stretch, stretch and stretch
Stretches, both moving and static, are vital for keeping tendons protected all over your body. They ensure that they all get the blood flow that they need and ensure that your muscles won’t tighten up on you as you climb. There are a variety of tendon stretch exercises you can explore, many of which can be done in the comfort of your own home in just a few minutes.
Get rock climbing insurance with SportsCover Direct
As with any sport with a risk of injury, good insurance cover makes sure that you’re protected should the unfortunate or unforeseen happen. At SportsCover Direct, we offer a variety of different rock-climbing insurance policies, including personal accident and liability cover, and help if your equipment is lost, stolen or held up in transit. If travelling abroad for an event, we can also cover you if your event is cancelled, your transport to the event lets you down or if you need medical care or repatriation due to injury.
Take a more detailed look at our rock-climbing insurance here.