Rock Climbing Conditioning: Injury Prevention
Jan 5 2011 by Jack Walton
OVER the next few articles we will detail an approach to injury prevention for climbers. If you add these strategies to what you already do you can significantly minimise the risk of injury during this demanding activity for body and mind.
This diagram illustrates the approach to developing high performance levels. It is true that we need to build a strong foundation on which to build. If we practice to specifically and without the basics, there will be one of two outcomes, or both:
1. Injury: Due to a weak link or overload that the body has not been conditioned to withstand.
2. Underachievement: From a lack of conditioning for human function and climbing specific demands will come compensation and with it the inability to reach the optimal performance levels and individual potential.
How to use the Pyramid
If our goal is to achieve our climbing potential and remain reasonably free of injury, then this is the basic model to follow. In simple terms it gets more sports specific as you go up and typically a few of these steps are missed for one reason or another. Let’s be honest, when you enjoy climbing or any other sport, all you want to do is…….climb, climb and climb some more. And of course practice is fundamental to improving at something. Yet the important consideration of building a solid foundation must not be omitted, especially with the age of participants getting younger all the time.
As a practitioner, it is not a new problem, as many injuries or plateaus in performance can often be overcome by going back to basics and creating balance in the body. The foundation, as you can see, is about creating Function for the body. This can mean a lot of things and different things to different people, but the key is that the body is in balance and has a full profile for human function. Think about movement development and flexibility, muscle balance and even about factors such as hydration, breathing, hormonal balance, energy and digestion. Although some of these may seem unrelated to wanting to climb new routes and gradings and plan for new challenging climbing trips, these are the factors that have major impact on energy, strength, tissue health, movement, endurance, mental function and more. All essential to climbing and if not in an optimal range then you can be sure your body will have compensated somewhere along the line.
First Step in Injury Prevention
The first step is to ensure a complete functional profile. This does not mean that you need to stop climbing while you do this, but this may also depend on your experience, training age, injury status and level of function. Nobody likes to regress, but to eventually reach new heights it might be worth it. Achieving Function may include efficient and healthy:
:: Postural Alignment
:: Muscular Balance – Strength
:: Muscular Balance – Flexibility
:: Movement Pattern Screens
:: Core Function
:: Joint Function
:: Hydrated tissues
:: Breathing Pattern
:: Quality Sleep and recovery Rates
:: Healthy Digestion
:: Hormonal Balance
:: Low stress and physiological load
:: Low toxicity and balanced Detoxification systems
:: Strong Immune health
:: High energy levels
Shoulder Pain Example
Many climbers I work with complain of shoulder pain. They may be new to the activity or very experienced, but when we use the above model we can hopefully make some positive changes and get them pain free. Put bluntly the pain is often due to a postural compensation. What this means is if the climber has poor flexibility in the hips or poor thoracic spine posture (hunched over) due to a sedentary desk-based occupation, then when climbing the shoulder may need to work extra-hard or be in a vulnerable position to reach a hold. For example in a crouched leg position with knees wide (frog) and aiming to reach up and backwards to a distant hold, the upper back posture will not provide a good foundation and the shoulder rotator cuff will need to externally rotate further than biomechanically ideal and to complete the move and put forces through these tissues and joints will increase risk of injury significantly.
However, if this climber enhances their function – the bottom of the pyramid – they can focus on flexibility of the hips and greater thoracic spine posture and mobility in order to reach more challenging holds and produce more power during moves. With optimal posture comes optimal function.
What are we Preventing? A reminder:
We can divide injuries into acute (instant) and chronic (long-term) injuries. Acute injuries typically happen quickly and are due to a particular high force, awkward movement, impact or fall. Here are some examples:
:: Skin Damage
:: Knee Meniscus (Cartilage)
:: Finger Tendon (Pulley System) Strain or Rupture
:: Finger Ligament and Capsular Sprain or Rupture
:: Forearm Muscle and Tendon Strains.
Chronic injuries occur at connective tissues, joints, bones and muscles that are subjected to high physical demand over a long period of time. Essentially these are overuse injuries – too much play and not enough rest, recovery and repair. The key to this is balance and when we overload we are at risk from:
:: Tendon Inflammation (tendonitis)
:: Trigger Finger – dysfunctional finger flexion and extension
:: Dupuytren’s Contracture – soft tissue scar on palm
:: Ganglion – liquid filled area around joint capsule or tendon sheath.
:: Myogelosis – increased muscle and tissue tension reducing health of tissue.
:: Swelling of finger joints
:: Finger Arthritis
:: Forearm Functional Compartment Syndrome – stress related pain
:: Elbow Pain - Lateral and Medial Epicondylitis (tennis and golfer’s elbow)
:: Shoulder Bursitis and Rotator Cuff Impingement
:: Shoulder Instability
:: Nerve Compression Syndromes – Carpal Tunnel, Thoracic Outlet, Supinator and Sulcus Ulnaris Syndromes
:: Spinal Injuries
:: Feet – Hallux vagus, Hallux rigidus and Hammertoes.
Future Articles and Workshops to help Prevent Injury
Stay tuned for more resources and articles on ways to prevent injury for climbers, including;
:: Advanced Stretching Techniques
:: Movement Screening and the Squat
:: Shoulder Girdle Function
:: Core Function
:: Holistic Approach to Prevention
Next Climbing Conditioning Workshop – 26th January 2011
You are invited to attend the Climbing Conditioning Workshop – Build a Strong Shoulder Girdle on 26th January 2011 at the Durham Climbing Centre. Book Your Place:
£10 Entry (includes evening’s climbing) | 7.00pm to 8.30pm
Durham Climbing Centre: Unit 2 St John’s Rd | Meadowfield Industrial Estate | Durham | DH7 8TZ
info (at) durhamclimbingcentre.com 0191 3789555 www.durhamclimbingcentre.co.uk
‘Functional Trainer’ provides Climbing Conditioning Workshops, Corrective Exercise Coaching, The Bowen Technique and Metabolic Typing ® Nutrition. www.functionaltrainer.co.uk. Contact 07792761324 jack (at) functionaltrainer.co.uk.