Dr. Mark E. Pruzansky
Dr. Jason S. Pruzansky
975 Park Avenue New York, NY 10028

Ice & Rock Climbing Injuries

What are Rock and Ice Climbing Injuries?Rock Climbing Injuries

Rock and ice climbing are widely considered high-risk activities associated with a high incidence rate of severe injury. Ice and rock climbing has an overall higher injury risk than indoor climbing related to high altitudes and an unpredictable environment.

In rock and ice climbers, repetitive and over-stress injuries are more common than injuries resulting from a fall.

Types of Rock and Ice Climbing Injuries

Injuries sustained while ice rock climbing usually affect the hand, wrist, and elbow. The arm is responsible for hoisting athletes onto higher ledges while climbing, which can lead to strain injuries from abrupt changes in weight distribution and maximum muscular forces concentrated in small parts of the hand.

Finger injuries

The most common injury to the hand is an annular band or pulley tear, which is sustained when a finger pulley bears much of your body weight. This injury usually occurs while crimping (when a hold is only big enough for the tips of your fingers). Trigger finger with painful clicking, swelling in the palm, or getting stuck in the bent position can occur from strenuous overuse, as well as from other unrelated causes.

Repetitive strain injuries

Overuse injuries, such as tendonitis, occur from repetitive strain to the tendons which bend the fingers, less commonly the elbow. These injuries occur when there has been too much force exerted and there is not enough time between activities for the tendons to recover.

Characteristics and Clinical Presentation of Rock and Ice Climbing Injuries

Patients report hearing or feeling a pop, tear or pain in their digits as soon as the injury occurs. This is most often in the middle or ring finger. Patients may notice “bowstringing” in their knuckles, resembling a lump on the palmar surface of the finger.

Tendonitis or tears involving tendons and muscles from the elbows to the fingers may result in difficulty moving one to more fingers and may cause numbness or tingling.

Causes of Rock and Ice Climbing Injuries

The most common cause of ice and rock climbing injuries is from repetitive strain or from crimping forcefully or too soon following a previous crimping accident. This may result in strain injuries to the finger or hand.

You should always give your body a period of rest between strenuous physical activity, especially if a specific region was previously injured.

Getting a Diagnosis for Rock and Ice Climbing Injuries

Most climbing injuries are diagnosed from a limited range of motion, pain, or tenderness. X-rays are useful in evaluating associated fractures or joint irregularities. An ultrasound or an MRI may be performed to visualize the flexor tendons and overlying pulleys.

Prompt diagnosis by a skilled hand surgeon can provide relief for rock and ice climbing injuries in addition to improving the prospective prognosis.

Treatment Options for Rock and Ice Climbing Injuries

Many climbers recover from pulley tears by resting, icing, and massaging the finger to reduce pain swelling.  Although these methods can be done at home, it is important to see a skilled hand surgeon promptly to gain an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan.

Prompt diagnosis and treatment of most injuries leads to simple solutions:  immobilization, ring splints, occupational therapy, and perhaps a cortisone injection. NSAIDs are also useful in providing short term inflammation relief.

Conservative Treatments

Rest, anti-inflammatory medication, and physician-supervised physical therapy are most often recommended for most cases. A cortisone injection and occasionally surgery may be options.

Prompt diagnosis can improve a patient’s overall prognosis and ensure proper physical therapy and climbing methods are employed during the healing stages.

Surgical Treatments

Severe cases with flexor tendon dysfunction may require surgical intervention to repair or reconstruct torn pulleys and restore finger function. Splinting or casting may be required to immobilize the affected region until it is cleared for movement. Physical therapy is recommended to restore mobility and range of motion following a surgical procedure.

Preventing an Injury while Rock and Ice Climbing Injuries

Climbing is a strenuous activity with the potential for injury. However, there are some practices that can mitigate the chances of injury:

  • Use Rest Days: Overuse injuries are one of the most common climbing injuries. Rest days are as important as training days.
  • Stop over-gripping: Beginner climbers often make the mistake of over gripping—using more force than necessary—to hang onto a rock. This can result in premature fatigue and injury to the finger tendons, pulley, and joints.
  • Cross train: Cross training helps mitigate repetitive strain injuries by strengthening more than one muscle group in order to maintain proper balance.
  • Warm up: Ensuring your joints and muscles are warmed up before a climb can help prevent acute injuries by stretching and exercising muscles before strenuous activity.

Prognosis for Rock and Ice Climbing Injuries

Injuries from crimping are the most common injury, however, they are typically the least severe. Patients ought to cease climbing until consulting a hand surgeon and receiving a plan to return to their sport.

After the injury has been cleared and approved for activity again, patients should ease themselves back into the sport to aid in long-term injury prevention.

If You Believe You Have Rock and Ice Climbing Injury, Contact HandSport Surgery Institute

Please contact us as soon as possible to schedule an appointment with our talented team. People experiencing injuries from rock and ice climbing should be evaluated to optimize recovery and minimize the possibility of further injury and mobility issues.

If you have been injured, it’s important to be evaluated by a highly skilled professional. Call Drs. Mark and Jason Pruzansky at 212-249-8700 to schedule an appointment and obtain an accurate diagnosis.