5 August 2012

Another good injury story

In the age of Facebook and Twitter, the good writing with some depth about our favourite subjects is sometimes a little less visible online than it was a few years ago. Here is a great story from Natalie Berry about her battles with a string of injuries over the past 12 years as a successful sport and competition climber.
I really felt for Natalie reading this, it brought back some of the worst moments from my own memories of ‘dark’ injury times. As I was reading, as a coach I was thinking “would there have been anything that could have been done differently?”. Possibly not if the design of the training progression was optimum, but the one thing on my mind was that a complete change of scenery while the appropriate rehab program was under way might help. Towards the end of her story, it turned out that doing just that seemed to improve the situation at least a bit. Nat's key quote of the blog was "The pain is telling me to change something". 
Like Natalie, I also went through a long (5 year) period of having one finger injury after another. As soon as one pulley healed, another went. If I could go back in time and tell myself the lessons I learnt the hard way, I’d say this:
The string of injuries were caused by poor technique, training planning and tactics. I’m not talking about seriously bad technical errors. I mean the kind of thing that’s so subtle only a very experienced coach would spot - slight systematic errors in control of movement, body position, the way I took the holds, my tactics for avoiding injury situations etc. I should have taken more time to clock up the hours climbing in more different situations, with different climbers and with less pressure to perform. Instead I should have concentrated more on basic climbing skills to develop the kind of movement and tactical awareness that only thousands of hours on the rock gives you.
When I got the injuries I should have taken complete time out from trying to perform. Not just the practicalities of trying to do it, but the impatient mindset that goes with it. I eventually went back to VS and went trad climbing all over the place and actually learned to be a solid leader. The result was coming back onsighting E7 instead of falling off E5s. I ought to have done it much earlier.
I changed my technique to move more dynamically, reducing the stress and risk for my tendons. I gained some openhanded strength and reduced my reliance on crimping. I learned that I needed to take care of my body better, and started eating and sleeping better. Finally, I thought tactically about what today’s climbing decisions meant for tomorrow, instead of just thinking about right now. A big part of this was simply being very careful climbing in warm or humid conditions when the risk of injury was much higher.
All of these factors together worked. Better late than never. In the 8 years since I’ve had two minor pulley injuries that resolved in a short time. 
If you are going through the same sort of experience, it’s very challenging to know what to do without the benefit of hindsight. The contributing factors for your injuries will be slightly different for everyone. At the end of the day, although advice from experienced sources is priceless, only you will be able to process that advice and sense what you should do differently. You must make yourself the expert and be prepared to cut through your own hang-ups, deep set habits and prejudices. N.B. I've been writing down all the possible avenues to look at in my injuries book which I'm still making steady progress with.
No easy answers, but it can be done.


Danger said...

" A big part of this was simply being very careful climbing in warm or humid conditions when the risk of injury was much higher."

Hi there

I've never heard of this -- why is the risk of tendon injury higher when the weather is hot or humid?


Joe Terravecchia said...

Poor friction during hot humid weather simply requires that you pull harder and crimp more aggresively to maintain contact. I just strained a ring finger pulley here in New Hampshire on a very hot & humid day.

Spraynard Kruger said...

Could you explain how climbing more dynamically reduces tendon injuries? I'm basically at that same point where I get 1 or 2 finger tweaks a year. I've recently focused on climbing more statically because I figured it would allow me to latch holds in control more, even though it seems like dynamic movement saves a ton of energy for routes.

Dave MacLeod said...

The detailed explanation will be in my book but briefly it changes two key variables:

1. Peak forces when you take a hand off to reach. If you climb statically then all the work has to be done by the holding arm while the other one reaches.

2. If a hand or foot slips during this moment of static reaching, it's the biggest risk for tissue tearing, either microscopically so you don't notice it at the time but it builds up, or catastropically when a pulley ruptures.

The caveat here is that dynamic technique without control is obviously bad for your health too. Whether it is more risky than static climbing is debatable. You must keep clean technique and good footwork to stay safe from injuries.