12 November 2010

Injury therapy in Margalef

About a month ago, on the crux sidepull of Muy Caliente E10 6c, I tore a ligament in my DIP joint of my left index finger. I spent the rest of my week long trip there climbing openhanded on it, or at least not using my thumb on half-crimps. Thankfully none of the other routes I did needed any crimping.
After I got home, I spent the next three weeks climbing solely openhanded on my board, bouldering outside or sticking to slabs on trad, even if pretty hard slabs. The tear was immediately painful on crimping, slightly painful on half-crimps but totally fine openhanded. This was all going fine, although the intensity of training on my board was probably still a bit much for it. What is always needed in this situation is a change of scenery.
A couple of weeks hard climbing in the steep walls and roofs of Margalef was exactly the therapy I needed. The point here is that the injured part must be relatively unloaded for a good several weeks to give it a chance to progress and form a strong scar. But doing nothing tends to cause that healing progress to falter. Choosing climbing that will keep everything moving, responding and basically stimulated means healing progresses faster. So the goal is to look for a type of climbing that is kind on the injury but lets you climb hard and keep your fitness. In the case of this particular injury that simply meant climbs that don’t need crimps, or at least that only need them rarely and you can get around it. A lot of the time it’s exactly the same with pulley tears. 
In two weeks of pocket pulling on routes F8b and up I didn’t aggravate the injury once but gained fitness and gave the finger a good stimulus to heal. It totally worked, and now at the end of the trip it’s feeling painless testing it on hard crimping.
Of course that doesn’t mean it’s gone. I’m sure if I spent a week crimping my way up some British limestone face climbs, it would soon go backwards again. It just means it’s made great progress, and with a few more weeks of the same and no mistakes, it should be getting more and more resistant to full normal climbing.


Matt said...

This is a great post. I'm dealing with a finger injury and this solidifies my thought process for recovery. I need to climb to get the blood flowing because sitting around just isn't working. Thanks!

John Liungman said...

Interesting post, but is this really good advice for the average climber? I have a feeling very few climbers take enough rest after minor injuries. I guess if you really have the discipline and knowledge to stick to just the right moves for your specific injury, then you may be right. But most climbers will take this kind of advise as an excuse to get back on the wall ASAP. And that is definately not the universal recipie for recovery.

John Liungman said...

BTW, can you point me to any previous posts with training tips on how to get rid of the bad habit of always crimping where open hand might work as well? I have a tendency to hurt finger pulleys and need to start using that open hand more...

Zhiming Wang said...

Hi Dave,

I was wondering if you've any experience with open handed injuries?

I injured my ring finger pulling on a open handed crimp at the very edge of my reach over a month ago.

However it's the exact opposite of your injury - I'm fine full or half crimped but open handed holds and slopers hurt my finger.

John Watson said...

any good links for shoulder tendinitis, Dave? slabs not an option in winter!

Dave MacLeod said...

John - You're right to point out that managing the intensity of the rehab climbing is one of the biggest challenges and it comes down to discipline to a large extent. I'm not sure there's any particular group who are particularly worse than another at it though. The 'serious' climbers at a high level who can show plenty of discipline when training hard are often worse than anyone else at disciplining themselves to modulate intensity during rehab. I'm putting plenty of advice in Rock 'til you drop about how to set up the conditions to make it easier to find that discipline.

There will also be plenty of advice about tendon strains that hurt openhanded and how to deal with them. I'll just write another post just now about avoiding crimping John.

Mr Watson - Sorry to hear your shoulder is still causing problems. I have a mountain of good books about shoulders which might be useful for you to take a look at. The shoulder is so complicated - what to do depends totally on the affected tendon and what postural problems if any are causing it. I'm writing a big section on shoulders for the book also, but there's no substitute for an accurate diagnosis of both the affected tissue and the postural causes.

Niall said...

How about a wee explanation of what the DIP joint is for those less anatomically aware. I know it's Distal InterPhalangeal (sp?) from my Therapy training, but am guessing many other folks didn't have such training in their past.