Climbing injuries

Climbing injuries

This article will mainly cover climbing related injuries occurring when sports or rock climbing due to overuse i.e. Sports injury. Fortunately, only a small number of climbing injuries are acute traumas due to falls - the rest falls into the overuse injuries category that most commonly occur in the fingers, elbows, and shoulders.[1] Though in all honesty the most common injuries are no worse than torn calluses, cuts, burns and bruises.



Injuries from falls are rare in indoors sports climbing, but do happen, especially in lead climbing. Fractures (broken bones) of the ankle and tibia (shin bone) are commonly seen in climbers who have fallen. In some cases, falling can cause severe injuries to the head, neck, and back, resulting in impairment or even death. For the conservative climber who tend to climb well within his limits a fall might have more severe repercussions due to his body not being used to the strain of falling, such as whiplash injuries, bitten tongues, broken wrists and ankles. Hence practice falling within a safe environment in order to get used to the sensation of falling and teaching the body appropriate reflexive responses might be a good idea.

Lead climbing

Top-rope climbing

Severe falls do happen in top-rope climbing; they seem mainly to occur due to the human factor. Usual reasons consist of poorly performed Figure-eight loop and/or distracted climbing partner.


Bouldering injuries tend to happen due to:

  • lack of warm-up
  • heavy muscle fatigue
  • repetitive moves

Risk groups

The climbers most prone to injuries are intermediate to expert within lead climbing or bouldering.[2]

Overuse injuries in climbing

In terms of overuse injuries a British study found that:[3]

  • 40 percent occurred in the fingers
  • 16 percent in the shoulders
  • 12 percent in the elbows
  • 5 percent were the knees
  • 5 percent back
  • 4 percent wrists

One injury that tend to be very common among climbers is Carpal tunnel syndrome. It is found in about 25% of the climbers.[4]

Finger injuries

604 injured rock climbers were prospectively evaluated from January 1998 to December 2001, due to the rapid growth of new complex finger trauma in the mid 1980s. Three of four of the most frequent injuries were related to the fingers: pulley injuries accounted for 20%, tendovaginitis for 7%, and joint capsular damage for 6.1%.[5]


Damage to the flexor tendon pulleys that encircle and support the tendons that cross the finger joints is the most common finger injury within the sport (aka climber's finger).[6] You can blame the common crimp grip, especially in the closed position, as the main culprit for pulley related injuries. In using the crimp grip, near ninety-degree flexion of the middle finger joint produces tremendous force load on the A2 pulley. Injuries to the A2 pulley can range from microscopic to partial tears and, in the worst case, a complete rupture. Some climbers report hearing a pop, which might be a sign of a significant tear or complete rupture, during an extremely heavy move (e.g. tiny crimp, one- or two-finger pocket). Small partial tears, or inflammation can occur over the course of several sessions.[7]

  • Grade I - Sprain of the finger ligaments (collateral ligaments), pain locally at the pulley, pain when squeezing or climbing.
  • Grade II - Partial rupture of the pulley tendon. Pain locally at the pulley, pain when squeezing or climbing, possible pain while extending your finger.
  • Grade III - Complete rupture of the pulley causing bowstringing of the tendon. Symptoms can include: Pain locally at the pulley (usually sharp), may feel/hear a 'pop' or 'crack', swelling and possible bruising, pain when squeezing or climbing, pain when extending your finger, pain with resisted flexion of the finger.[8]


  • Stress fractures
  • Collateral ligament injuries

Shoulder injuries

Shoulder related injuries could typically include Rotator cuff tear, strain or tendonitis, biceps tendonitis or SLAP lesion.[9]

Elbow injuries

Tennis elbow (Lateral Epicondylitis) is a common elbow injury among climbers and so is Golfer's elbow (Medial Epicondylitis, which basically is the same but on the inside of the elbow).

Young/adolescent climbers

“Any finger injury that is sustained by a young adolescent (12 - 16) should be seen by a physician and have x-rays performed. These skeletally immature athletes are very susceptible to developing debilitating joint arthritis later in adulthood.” [10]

See also


  1. ^ [|Hörst, Erik J.] (2003). Training for Climbing: The Definitive Guide to Improving Your Climbing. Guilford, Connecticut, Helena, Montana: Falcon Publishing. p. 151. ISBN 0-7627-2313-0. 
  2. ^ Wright, D. M.; Royle, T. J.; Marshall, T (2001). "Indoor rock climbing: who gets injured?". Br J Sports Med. Retrieved 11 January 2011. 
  3. ^ article by: Doran, D. A.; Reay, M. (2000). "Injuries and associated training and performance characteristics in recreational rock climbers". The Science of Rock Climbing and Mountaineering (A collection of scientific articles). Human Kinetics Publishing. ISBN 0736031065. 
  4. ^ Preston, Dayton. "Rock Climbing Reaching New Heights". Hughston health alert. Retrieved 11 January 2011. 
  5. ^ Schöffl, V.; Hochholzer, T.; Winkelmann, H.P.; Strecker, W. (summer 2003). Pulley injuries in rock climbers. Wilderness & environmental medicine. PMID 12825883. 
  6. ^ Preston, Dayton. "Rock Climbing Reaching New Heights". Hughston health alert. Retrieved 11 January 2011. 
  7. ^ Hörst, Eric J (2008). "Finger Tendon Pulley Injury". Nicros. Retrieved 11 January 2011. 
  8. ^ Roseborrough, Aimee; Roseborrough, Kyle (2009). "DIAGNOSIS: Pulleys". Retrieved 11 January 2011. 
  9. ^ Roseborrough, Aimee; Roseborrough, Kyle (2009). "Climbing Injuries: Shoulders". Retrieved 11 January 2011. 
  10. ^ Edell, David (24 October 2009). "Finger Injuries". Retrieved 11 January 2011. 

External links

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