Climbing and your fingers

The higher the level of climber, the greater the chance of climbing injuries. And one of the most common injuries known to climbers is an injury to a finger or hand. Climbing injuries of this type can happen to both beginners and experienced climbers. Sometimes it is due to poor preparation and warm-up. Sometimes it is due to a lack of strength in the fingers. Sometimes it is down to poor technique. Another problem is that most people who suffer climbing injuries of this type do not seek medical help. This is problematic as it can lead to further, and more severe, climbing injuries later on. It is important to get proper diagnosis and treatment when the climbing injuries occur as this will speed up recovery and prevent ongoing problems.

The anatomy of common climbing injuries

The fingers are where most climbing injuries occur. Our fingers are split into three bones with joints between each one. These joints are held together by cartilage and ligaments found where each bone ends. These ligaments prevent lateral movement of the joints. Tendons allow the fingers to bend. And the digital flexor muscle tendon is where the forearm muscles start. The tendons are also responsible for attaching our nails to our fingers. The tendons are located within the protective tendon sheaths. The most common climbing injuries are when these tendons are pulled or torn.

Climbers finger injuries

What are the most common climbing injuries?

The A2 Pulley is found between the base of the finger and the middle knuckle. Injury to the A2 Pulley often happens when you put an unexpected force on the hand – a slip for example. Climbers may hear an audible “pop” and feel immediate pain, followed by swelling and bruising later. The pain is usually localized to the base of the finger. The injury can range from a small tear to a full rupture. While you will not need surgery, you may need to tape the finger in the future to prevent further injury. The second of our common climbing injuries occurs when the flexor tendon tears. As already said, the flexor tendons run from forearms into the fingers, connecting muscles and bones. They allow you to bend your hand and flex your fingers. If a tear or stretch occurs then you will feel pain between the palm and wrist. A more serious injury, and one that will probably need surgery, will mean that you cannot bend one or more of your joints in your finger. The collateral ligaments, which surround each finger joint, are also susceptible to climbing injuries. Trauma here usually happens with sideways loading, for example when you hold with one hand and throw the other hand out and up to get a new hold. Pain will be felt at the side of the joint—usually the middle joint of the middle finger. This is another injury that might require surgery if severe enough. While complete ruptures are rare, they become more likely if they have not properly healed following an earlier injury. This is why it is important to see a doctor or physiotherapist with knowledge of climbing injuries. Self-diagnosis is difficult, meaning that deciding on the right course of self-treatment is also difficult. If your climbing injuries are of a minor nature then they will heal relatively quickly (1-2 weeks). A severe tear can take months of rehabilitation. It should also be noted that unhealed climbing injuries can make you unstable and therefore more likely to make errors.

What are the main symptoms of climbing injuries?

– Pain at the end of the climb – Pain during the climb (Stop climbing immediately and seek professional advice) – Pain in daily activities (Stop climbing and stop any activities that cause pain, seek professional advice)


Ice, and the use of anti-inflammatories during the first five days following the onset of climbing injuries can help. Careful stretching can also be used on a daily basis. When the injury starts to heal, then you can start using the injured finger/hand again. be cautious and stop an activity immediately if the pain returns. You should return to climbing gradually. Remember, rehabilitation is not training, just do the easiest and painfree movements, gradually increasing the difficulty and intensity as your injury allows.

If you find this article useful, and if you are a female athletes, you might be interested in reading about how to deal with athletic amenorrhea.

(image credit: hd4desktop, jhuppi.dpmblogs)

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