Five Common Climbing Injuries and How to Fix Them

Every climber can tell you that scrapes and bruis­es are just part of the game, but if you’re not care­ful you could end up suf­fer­ing some­thing a lot worse than a nick. Here are some com­mon climb­ing injuries and how to pre­vent them, or heal them if you’ve already got ‘em.

One of the most com­mon injuries among climbers is a sub­lux­a­tion, oth­er­wise known as a par­tial dis­lo­ca­tion, and it occurs most­ly in the shoul­ders. It hap­pens a lot in boul­der­ing and occurs when the ball joint extends too far for­ward dur­ing big moves. It leaves the climber with a sear­ing pain in the back of the shoul­der and requires exten­sive ther­a­py and con­di­tion­ing to correct.

Upward motions become impos­si­ble to per­form with­out dis­com­fort or pain and should be avoid­ed at all costs. That means absolute­ly no climb­ing for a while.

Gen­tle rota­tions of the shoul­der will help stretch the injured mus­cles while moves like pushups and dips will increase strength over time. Truth­ful­ly, this one usu­al­ly requires pro­fes­sion­al help and you should con­sid­er speak­ing with a phys­i­cal ther­a­pist if sub­lux­a­tion occurs. Absolute­ly no climb­ing as long as the pain still exists, unfortunately.

Rota­tor Cuff Tears
Some­times you might tear the mus­cles in your shoul­der rather than dis­lo­cate them. In fact, this is the most com­mon shoul­der injury among rock climbers. When­ev­er we place our arms above our shoul­ders and attempt to per­form exten­sive or dynam­ic moves we place unnec­es­sary stress on our tendons.

Rota­tor cuff tears are evi­dent by aching and sharp pains on the top of the shoul­der and upper arms, espe­cial­ly when attempt­ing to lift your arms above your head. Your arms and shoul­der are like­ly to feel weak and dif­fi­cult to lift too.

Rotator Cuff muscles

To heal minor tears you’ll sim­ply need to rest and avoid any move­ments that place your arms above your head. With time and a few ice packs, the tear will heal on its own. Major injuries to the rotary cuff are not so sim­ple and often require med­ical treat­ment from a doc­tor and phys­i­cal ther­a­py to heal. If you mess your­self up bad­ly enough it might require surgery.

So, as soon as you feel pain in your shoul­der or arm imme­di­ate­ly stop climb­ing and keep your arm below shoul­der-lev­el. If the pain lasts more than a few days con­sult your doc­tor. You might want to keep an ice wrap on hand, just in case.

Stretch­ing the mus­cles in your shoul­der is the most effec­tive way to pre­vent rota­tor cuff tears. To increase strength, focus on inter­nal and exter­nal rota­tions on a cable machine. You can also try some­thing called a scap­tion, which involves using the cable machine and lift­ing your arms upwards at a 30-degree angle sim­i­lar to a lat­er­al shoul­der fly.

Pul­ley Tears
Fin­ger pul­leys are lig­a­ments that com­press the fin­ger flex­or ten­dons onto our bones in our fin­gers. Pul­leys are high­ly sus­cep­ti­ble to tears dur­ing climb­ing because of the mas­sive amounts of weight we require them to car­ry. They tend to tear the most when per­form­ing too much crimp­ing or when uti­liz­ing fin­ger pockets.

If you expe­ri­ence a pul­ley injury it’s time to take a break. Apply ice and down some anti-inflam­ma­to­ry med­i­cine to reduce the chance of any sec­ondary dam­age due to lack of oxy­gen reach­ing the mus­cles. It’s best to take at least a week off from train­ing but, if you can’t stom­ach the thought, give it at least two days and only stick to jugs and oth­er big holds. It’s impor­tant to keep the pres­sure off your fin­gers until they’re ful­ly healed.

To pre­vent injury, before or after you’ve already mucked it up once, focus on increas­ing your crimp strength and ensur­ing that each fin­ger is strong enough to han­dle your load.


As climbers, we spend an inor­di­nate amount of time pulling on mus­cles instead of push­ing on them, which invari­ably leads to inflamed ten­dons or ten­donitis. It most often affects shoul­ders, elbows, and fore­arms but can affect oth­er areas too.

Treat­ing ten­donitis involves a lot of ice and a lot less climb­ing, unfor­tu­nate­ly. Apply ice to your injured mus­cles at least three times a day and avoid any climb­ing-spe­cif­ic train­ing for a few weeks.

The key to com­bat­ing ten­donitis, as with most things, is stretch­ing. You’ll need to focus on con­di­tion­ing your fore­arms and shoul­der mus­cles and increas­ing the strength the each to pre­vent climber’s elbow and a jacked up back. Per­form exten­sor and flex­or stretch­es before you hit the wall every time. You’ll also want to increase grip and fore­arm strength by per­form­ing prona­tors, while pec flys can actu­al­ly help increase shoul­der strength and rotation.

Trig­ger-Fin­ger Syndrome
Have you ever come off a hard day’s climb only to find that your fin­ger seems to either lock up occa­sion­al­ly or “pop?” That’s called trig­ger-fin­ger syn­drome and it’s actu­al­ly the result of a cyst that forms inside the flex­or ten­dons in your fin­ger. It’s not typ­i­cal­ly painful but can def­i­nite­ly ham­per your abil­i­ty to grip.

Bad news—it turns out there’s lit­tle you can do out­side of acupunc­ture (and that’s not even proven to work) to make it stop. The cyst will have to work its way out on its own. Luck­i­ly trig­ger-fin­ger typ­i­cal­ly doesn’t ham­per your abil­i­ty to climb, it just feels weird, so no need to wor­ry too much about it. If you’re expe­ri­enc­ing actu­al pain from this you’ll want to see a doc­tor, though. That’s prob­a­bly some oth­er prob­lem entirely.