Don’t Let Injury Beat You Down
I want everyone to know that injuries in climbing do happen. Sometimes they are small issues that take only a week to heal, while others may take months. Please remember you can never let the injury beat you down; you have to keep working and it will get better.
My best friend was once asked to identify my greatest weakness, and they responded with “It’s him getting injured.” It’s safe to say that I have experienced many injuries in my climbing career. I have gotten severe tendinitis of my supraspinatus tendon, had partial tears on 3 separate finger pulleys, blew out my bicep, and had climber’s elbow. It took many years until I realized that proper warm ups and antagonistic training are necessary to prevent injuries before they happen. “Climb Injury Free”, written by Dr. Jared Vagy @theclimbingdoctor, is an amazing resource for keeping your body healthy so you can stay on the wall.
I have very few triggers that will send me into a depressive state, and sadly being injured and unable to climb is one of them. In the past, every time I would get injured the downward spiral would begin. First, I would go see a walk-in doctor (not a specialist), and they would tell me not to climb. This would cause me to feel depressed and anxious. Then I would begin the waiting game: I would do nothing but rest my injury for the recommended time. Sometimes this period lasted as long as 6 months. Every day would seem boring, and I had a knack for allowing pessimism to creep in and be extra sensitive to any other negative event that occurred. I would comment on my loss of strength, and gaining of weight. It was like I had become the world's worst climber in a short couple of months. Finally, I would plan a “test” climb after my recommended rest period was done. This was always the worst day because I knew that if my injury was still causing me pain, I would be further upset -- and even if the injury felt okay, I would still be angry that I wasn’t operating at 100% strength.
I wish I could give my old self the knowledge I have now.
Self diagnose - Understand your injury before you see a professional. This way you will be better able to communicate with the professional. Be sure you are able to communicate how you were injured, how and where pain is felt, and any limited range of motion you may be experiencing.
Take some rest - Make sure to take some time off in order to let the inflammation settle down, since this will make it easier to do rehab work. Taking one to two weeks off is not uncommon.
See a specialist - Get your family doctor to recommend a specialist to see, or get them to send you for additional testing like X Rays, MRI’s, and Ultrasounds. You have to be an advocate for your own health.
Visit a physiotherapist - Get someone to give you guidelines on how to make yourself stronger. Make sure your physiotherapist is familiar with climbing so they can give you more specific recommendations.
Keep doing active rehabilitation - When doing strengthening exercises in the injured area, discomfort is not a bad thing -- but pain is. Slowly working the injured area, as well as strengthening antagonistic muscles, is the best way to get back to full health while also helping to prevent future injuries.
Stay consistent - Injuries take time to heal, so don’t expect them to go away after one week. Making the rehab exercises a part of your daily routine is imperative for healing the injury. Some injuries take multiple months to heal, so don’t be discouraged.
Keep training what you can - I know it is hard, but remind yourself that you will heal. Use this recovery time to strengthen other areas that will help to improve your climbing. This could mean working deadhangs if your ankle is sprained, or working your core and weight lifting if your finger is out of commission.
It is easier said than done to stay positive, though remember it happens to all of us and you will get better. Even with all my injuries in the past, I am stronger now than I have ever been. I now use the knowledge of proper warm ups and antagonistic training, and it has kept me free of major injuries for the past 3 years.
Here are some resources to help put you on the right track:
The Climbing Doctor - Jared Vagy
The Climbing Doc - Lisa Erikson
Training Beta Podcast - Neely Quinn
Grassroots Physical Therapy - Esther Smith
Happy, Healthy, Climbing!