The most common yet overlooked rock climbing injuries are found right at your fingers! If you are a climber, I know how much you love your hands and fingers. I do too! I use my hands for American Sign Language, writing, drawing, painting, massaging my patients’ muscles, mobilizing bony joints, and of course holding onto tiny crimps on the wall for my dear life.
Too many other endurance athletes, a finger injury is not that big of a deal, but it is for a rock climber. If not treated properly, a “tiny” finger injury can result in a lot of time off the wall. In this blog, I’ll dive into the anatomy of the fingers, why they are so important, and what you can do to prevent finger injuries altogether!
There are several pulleys and bands across the two flexor tendons to hold it down. The most common ligament/tendon injury in the finger is the A2 pulley, as pictured below.
When the flexor tendons (FDP and FDS) are under HIGH loads, it can create stress on any of the bands or ligaments holding the tendon, creating a bowstring effect, as pictured below.
If you have never sustained a finger injury, lucky you! Here’s how you can prevent it.
- Allow a full day of recovery for your forearms the day after a hardcore climbing day. Don’t do any heavy lifting or load up on your hands that will require gripping, cutting, or holding heavy weights. Do something light on your hands like writing, drawing, typing, and work-out focusing on your core and lower body strength.
- Strengthen your finger extensor muscles with a rubber band around your fingers.
- Progression– Continue to slowly build up your finger tendon strength by dedicating at least 10 minutes of your time 3 times a week to practice on the hang-board and tension board focusing on forearm strength, endurance, and efficient hand positions for climbing.
- Warm up your hands and forearms appropriately before you hop on crimpy climbs, practice with jugs & pinches before tiny crimps and vertical climbs before overhangs.
- Pay close attention to your finger contacts, the more finger pads you have in contact, the better. If you notice you start to slip and fewer fingers are holding on, just let go and try again. That’s a sign your forearm muscles are getting tired.
A French study of twelve elite climbers with A2 pulley injuries found that eight subjects were able to successfully return to climbing after forty-five days of rest. More severe pulley tears, however, may require as much as two or three months of rest before progressively returning to climbing. (Eric Horst. 1/23/2015)
If you have sustained a finger injury, and don’t know what to do? Here’s what you can do.
- REST! Your body is undergoing an inflammatory process for the first 7-14 days and pain may dissipate after 2 weeks, but may take up to 10 weeks depending on the severity of the injury. Avoid climbing, forceful gripping, or any activities that require forceful flexion of the injured finger.
- “Buddy Taping” with another uninjured finger will help to put less load onto that tendon or ligament and to allow it to recover as much as possible. Wearing a finger splint will also be beneficial as well.
- Allow at least a week of splinting or buddy taping before you can begin testing out finger mobility and strength.
- Progressing and gradually wean the strength of the tendon and ligament by a specific program designed by your physical therapist.