Building Better Climbers

Taking your body safely to the edge

Climbers are always pushing themselves to the limit and are often not good at listening to their body’s alarm system warning of impending injury.

Injuries are common place and are almost taken for granted.

The good news is, that on top of regular common sense and “climbing smart”, there are simple actions that can be taken to help prevent some of these potential problems.

Getting well evidenced injury management information is imperative.

The internet can be a helpful resource, however some information is misleading and some is just downright wrong.

This brochure outlines structures that are most at risk from climbing, methods for prevention and evidenced based approaches to injury management.

It is not designed as a self treatment tool but as an adjunct to appropriate medical care.

General Injury Management

Nearly all soft tissue injuries (muscle, tendons, ligaments) can be initially be managed with RICE – relative rest, ice, and where appropriate compression and elevation. Rest is relative and can vary between time off to changing type of climbing.

General Prevention Tips

  • Listen to your body!!! Knowing the difference between DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) and a muscle strain can save you a long recovery process.
  • Climb and train for climbing for a maximum of 4 times per week. Overtraining is a risk factor for injuries. This does not include x- training.
  • Vary your climbing. Mishaps can often be avoided by changing from excessive crimping to overhanging fat jugs when those fingers are starting to ache slightly more than worn skin. This will also improve your overall technical skill.
  • Climbing trains the pulling muscles of the up- per body and can create imbalances. Train the opposing or pushing muscles 1-2 times per week.
  • Focus on technique rather than strength. Remember climbing is 2/3 technical and mental and 1/3 strength. Improving technique will allow you to use the most of your strength.


Structures at risk:

Tendons link muscle to bone and act like strings to apply force to enable us to move.

Tendon Pulleys act like slings to hold tendons in place when gripping and hanging.

The Tendon Sheath encapsulates the tendon like an inner tube and retains fluid that decreases friction and provides nutrients to the tendon.

Joint ligaments and capsules join from one bone to another providing passive stability to the joint.

High loads such as crimping with your middle finger joint at 90 degrees can cause irritation and tears. This can happen in a single instance or over a period of time and can affect any of the above structures.




A splint may be required for severe tendon pulley tears.


Structures at risk:

Common extensor tendon attachment

The small bony lump on the outer aspect of the elbow is the main attachment for the extensor muscle group. These muscles oppose your gripping muscles and are used in climbing to sup- port your wrist, hand and fingers when gripping. An overload of this structure will cause irritation and pain and if left untreated, degeneration. It has been recently found that inflammation is not part of this problem and the named then changed to Lateral Epicondyalgia. This is commonly known as tennis elbow.


NO stretching.

Massage away from injury site.

Avoid activities that increase pain to more than 3/10 pain (0/10 signifying no pain and 10/10 worst imaginable).

A graduated strengthening program will be required once settled.

Ibuprofen may have a small effect initially.



Impingement Syndrome:

Having such a large range of motion, shoulders require large amounts of strength and control to perform optimally, particularly for climbers. Muscles act like springs and if they are too strong, weak, tight or loose, biomechanical imbalances occur. One common example of this is impingement syndrome.

This occurs between the bony tip of the shoulder (the roof) and the ball part of the joint below it via two mechanisms. 1. Your shoulder stabilising muscles, the rotator cuff do not hold the ball in its socket, the ball then rises, squashing the various tissue into the roof. 2. Your shoulder blade muscles do not rotate the shoulder blade up sufficiently when lifting your arm and this space diminishes. This leads to pain, which when left untreated can lead to degeneration.


If you’re unfortunate enough to dislocate your shoulder you will need to decide with your doctor whether to have surgery or be treated conservatively. This will depend on the severity of torn structures and reduction of function. With either choice you will require physiotherapy.

Specific prevention tips:

Avoid hanging on a relaxed shoulder. Keep some muscle tension in your shoulder when hanging on a straight arm.

If you generally have ‘loose’ ligaments i.e. hypermobility you will require even larger amounts of muscle strength and control.

Physiotherapy for specific muscle training.