Unlike elbow or shoulder, wrist injuries and pain may not be the most usual ones you’ll face during your climbing career, but they can also lead to pretty serious pain and keep you from climbing for an extended period. In this article, we’ll show you some of the most common wrist injuries you may have to deal with.
What Causes Wrist Injuries
Wrist injuries during climbing can be caused by many different things – cold muscles, the lack of elasticity and strength, bad wrist positioning on a handhold or falling from the rock.
- Cold muscles happen when you decide to skip the warm-up and go straight to the rock.
- The lack of elasticity may occur when you avoid stretching your wrists before and after every session.
- The lack of strength can result in awkward positioning of your wrist.
- Bad wrist positioning means your wrist will be under more stress than it can handle, which can lead to serious injury.
- Falling from the rock may also lead to many different injuries, and wrists are among them.
Most Common Climbing Wrist Injuries
It may vary from situation to situation, but these four injuries are by far most common among climbers:
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- A stress fracture to the hook of hamate
- Triangular Fibrocartilage Complex injury – TFCC
- Scapholunate ligament tear
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
When your median nerve, the one used to control your thumb movements and sensation in your next two fingers besides thumb, gets compressed thanks to carpal tunnel swelling, you’ll deal with a condition known as carpal tunnel syndrome.
Some of the most common symptoms are numbness, tingling, and pain in your hand, along with forearm or upper arm discomfort, burning sensation, dry skin, hypoaesthesia, thumb weakness when you try to bend it, overall hand and fingers weakness…
If you feel these symptoms, it is time to cease all the climbing activities along with any other that can cause stress to your wrists, like playing tennis, carrying or lifting anything, gripping, etc. This will help your body with the healing process.
Most of the time, carpal tunnel syndrome can be cured by simply resting your arm, but if the condition doesn’t show signs of improvement in a matter of weeks, you may have to turn to a more aggressive form of therapy, like physiotherapy, injections or even surgery. The estimated time you’ll need to get back to your climbing routine is about 6 months.
Hook Of Hamate Fracture
This type of injury is not so common, but it can affect mostly boulderers. It is difficult to see in an x-ray, so it may be a bit more complicated to discover it, but learning these symptoms may be helpful:
- Little and ring finger numbness or tingling
- Hand heel numbness or tingling
- Muscle atrophy
- Hand weakness when straightening the ring and little fingers
- Weakness when spreading the fingers
It can be caused by an awkward hold grip or sudden stress, like when you slip and keep holding solely on one arm. Most of the time this injury has to be fixed surgically, but the recovery process lasts about 2 months before you’ll be able to return to your regular climbing routine.
Triangular Fibrocartilage Complex, so-called „wrist meniscus“, is there to make the easier bone movements on the ulnar and radius. This climbing wrist injury occurs mostly when there is pressure on the wrist while it is in ulnar deviation, which means it can happen if you fall, or if you open-hand big slopes.
It has the following symptoms:
- High pain around the little finger
- Hand weakness
In the case of minor injury, resting and immobilizing it may solve the issue. However, if the injury is more severe, the best way to solve it is surgery. In any case, be prepared to take about 4 months off from climbing. Even if the recovery goes way faster than expected, take your time and don’t rush anything. Go through a rehab slowly and make sure you’ve regained the strength.
Scapholunate Ligament Tear
This ligament serves as a connection between the scaphoid and the lunate, and acts as a stabilizer between the bones. Damaging it may lead to wrist balance loss and uncontrolled movement. The main symptoms are:
- Pain in the thumb side of the wrist
- Grip weakness
- The popping of the wrist
- Swelling over the gap between the scaphoid and lunate
This injury is most often caused by falling from the rock onto your wrist or any similar stress. The first step in treatment is to stop all the climbing activities, immobilization for up to 8 weeks, and strength rehabilitation after. If the injury is more serious, you may have to surgically repair it.
Tendonitis occurs due to overuse and can be classified as extension wrist tendonitis and flexon wrist tendonitis. If you feel tingling, you can’t move your wrist or it starts to swell, you should visit your doctor and see what’s the best course of treatment. Most of the time physical therapy will do, but if the injury is severe, you may have to solve the issue surgically.
Here are the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about climbing wrist injury and climbing wrist pain.
Q: How can I strengthen my wrists for climbing?
There are many different climbing exercises you can do to make your wrists stronger. Start with dumbbell wrist curls, continue with push-ups and when you reach an advanced level, try wrist push-ups and false grip pull-ups. You can also ask your climbing instructor for a recommendation.
Q: Why do climbers tape their wrists?
Climbers use tape to stabilize their tendons even more and to add more strength. Tendons suffer a lot of stress while climbing, so the tape is there to make sure they stay safe and sound, lowering the chance of a rupture or any tendon injury.
Q: What causes wrist swelling and pain?
Wrist swelling and pain can be caused by many different factors. It can be inflammation due to overuse, repetitive stress or it can be a consequence of an injury after a sudden impact or any similar blunt force. Another thing that can cause swelling and pain is adding pressure to an awkwardly turned wrist.
Q: How do you treat a TFCC injury?
If the injury is not as serious and can be regarded as minor, all you need is rest and immobilization will probably do the trick. However, if the symptoms are bad, it may be better to have surgery and fix it properly, so you can return to climbing as good as new.
Globo Surf Overview
This article will help you understand climbing wrist injuries and climbing wrist pain better, but if you do experience it, visit a doctor as soon as possible.