My mom is not a huge fan of my recent rock climbing addiction, but I always try and assure her that it’s really one of the safest things I do. I swear that sliding down a snow covered mountain on two sticks is ten times more dangerous than climbing and bouldering at a climbing gym. Yet I somehow did manage to give myself my very first ever rock climbing injury last night. It’s the first climbing milestone that I have not been very excited about.
The glory days when I could use all my fingers.
Of course my injury occurred early in the evening before I even had a chance to at least have fun and get in some good climbs. I had gone to Thrillseekers after work to meet some of my friends for bouldering and top roping, and I was upstairs warming up in the bouldering cave with Anne and Abby. To be fair I was doing a pretty bad job of warming up that evening. I normally do a few warm-up laps on a practice wall on the first level, and since I found myself in the bouldering cave I just did a really easy V0 problem and then went straight for the V1 that has been my recent project.
Thrillseekers. Don’t be fooled by how ghetto it looks. I love this gym!
The V1 project included a few “crimpy” moves. Crimping is climber jargon for a type of hold that is too narrow for your entire hand and instead requires reliance on finger strength.
I don’t know exactly what happened (obviously I was not paying enough attention!) but I was holding on to the crimp hold when my foot slipped off one of the foot holds. My hand stayed on the crimp hold as I kind of awkwardly fell off the wall, placing pressure on my fingers that were holding the grip. I came off the wall and immediately had this weird shooting pain from my fingers up to my elbow. It hurt to bend my fingers, and I sat out for ten minutes.
One of the people in my climbing group helped me tape my fingers on my left hand to give them more support, and I got back on the wall and tried to do another problem. No dice. I couldn’t put pressure on my left hand on any holds that weren’t easy jug holds, which basically eliminated everything in the bouldering cave. I headed downstairs to my normal warm-up area to try doing my usual warm-up route. I felt okay until I reached for the one overhanging move on the route. There was immediate shooting pain from my left hand to my elbow, so I dropped down to the floor.
At that point I was about five minutes away from wanting to cry so I decided that maybe it was time to call it a night. Climbing is already enough of an intensely mental sport and not being able to climb any of my normal routes because I couldn’t put pressure on my left hand was just making me mad! Once I gathered my things I went to turn in my lock to the front desk, and I talked to all three of the workers about what had just happened. As a runner, I’m pretty accustomed to the stereotypical running injuries. If I had tendonitis or shin splits I would absolutely know what to do. Hurting my finger and having pain all the way up to my elbow? That was a new one for me.
The Thrillseekers workers and I all determined that I had not ruptured a tendon, since I had not heard a pop when I fell off the wall and was not in excruciating pain, but that I probably had strained it. I remember thinking, “Okay strained tendon, I’ll take tonight off and be back climbing on Thursday!” Nope. The workers all told me it would be fine, I should ice it, and that I’d be back to normal in four weeks! You should have seen my face. Four weeks? I normally like to hit the climbing gym 2-3 times a week. How was I going to survive? I immediately called my brother Derek in the hopes that he maybe had experience with a similar injury.
Lucky for him my brother had never had an injury similar to my strained tendon. He did have some good insight though. I was explaining to him that I would at least take one week off completely before trying to go back to the climbing gym, which seemed totally reasonable to me. It’s probably a good thing I phoned a friend. Derek, the voice of sanity, told me I’m not allowed to climb next week and that I need to take a good 2-3 weeks off and then work my way back gradually until my hand feels 100% again. I suppose I agree. As I sit here typing this I can’t deny the fact that my finger/hand hurts. It hurts to fully extend my hand. You can’t climb if you don’t have complete trust in the strength of your hands.
Luckily I have other things I can do to keep me busy during the next few weeks. I can still run. I can still go to CrossFit (perhaps with some modifications). I can still ski. But I will for sure miss climbing. You don’t really appreciate what you have until it’s gone – and I can’t wait to be fully back at the climbing gym in a month!