How to keep your fingers healthy for climbing

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The average climber thinks less about finger health than the United States government thinks about health in general, which is saying something. Only when there’s a “pop” do we pay attention, how low the sky is falling…unless you’re mid-send, in which case you’re probably pretending for a few minutes that your finger is fine. (A patient of mine broke two fingers in a crack in Indian Creek purely from pulling too hard, but since he only had 30 feet of tight finger crack going for his best onsight crack he opted to suck it up and march on! Well done, ol’ chap.)

Pay your numbers a bit of attention, however, and your chances of acute or chronic illness are greatly reduced. Here are some tips to keep your zippers pulling.

1. regularly stretch your fingers.

Twist each joint like a corkscrew and bend the side at the same time. It’s not rocket surgery if you can feel the stretching joint, the joint is stretched. Hold the position for 30 seconds and repeat several times.

2. Do not warm on pockets.

Instead, try slamming your head into a car door. Although our fingers can work, they are not designed to do so independently under high loads. First, warm up using all fingers in unison (no finger splitting, which includes dropping the little finger when opening-handing with the first three fingers). Warming up the muscles and connective tissues that move and stabilize each finger will, through better elasticity, reduce the risk of injury when you start grabbing holds or pockets with just a finger or two, or three.

3. How you take adjust the pockets.

When you shoot as hard as you barrel you pockets tend to curl the unloaded fingers hard at the palm in an attempt to generate more force (which it probably does). The longer you pull neighboring fingers, especially if you’re not used to it, the greater the chance of injury to the small muscles in your palm, namely the lumbrical and interosseous muscles, and/or a tear around the musculoendonous junction in the middle forearm. You can do two things to lessen the risk of this injury. 1) Do not forcefully curl your fingers into your palm, but leave them in a more relaxed position. 2) Stretch the connective tissue that comes under tension when you split your fingers. Using a hang board (feet on the ground), load each finger separately while drawing the other fingers across your palm. Hold for 20 seconds and repeat several times for each finger or combination of fingers you commonly use. BE CAREFUL!

Read this: The proven way to improve finger strength.

4. Training your fingers is one way to prevent injury.

Systematic and progressive training is the best prevention for finger injuries of all kinds, including pulley breaks and stress fractures. That said, you just have to wait for them, sometimes things don’t go according to plan. How you manage your injuries is the key to recovery.

5. If you twist something, do your homework.

Understanding what you have hurt is paramount if you want to have a chance to recover while continuing to ride or train. Any heart remains is fine if there’s something else lighting your fire—a new romantic partner, the start of ski season, or that brainfarting new social media platform—but generally it’s not necessary. A few days of downtime are prudent, but since many settings settle very quickly, it’s good to start rehabbing and creeping up fairly quickly. If the pain is still cause for concern after a few days, it might not be a snap, in which case you should check with a climbing injury specialist.

Read This: Flappers, Bruises, Shredded Skin? pro climber skincare tips Chris Schulte

Virginia F. Goins