Common Rock Climbing Injuries

How to avoid them, how to fix them, and when to see a doctor

 Most climbing injuries occur from lack of warm-up, heavy muscle fatigue, and repetitive moves

Prevention: Always warm up and take breaks from working on the same problem allowing those muscles to rest and repair themselves


Finger injuries: These conditions are usually caused by holds requiring support of a large percentage of body weight with one or two fingers.

Prevention: Warm up before climbing, ease into the crimpy climbs, stretch your fingers, gently pull on the fingers allowing for space in the joint instead of squeezing the joint to pop it

My favorite treatments: Adjustments to wrist and fingers, gua sha/graston

  • Sprains/Strains – usually to the ligaments supporting the finger joints.
  • Joint Effusion – is an inflammation of the finger joint or a build-up of fluid in the joint capsule, which can lead to arthritis.
  • Climber’s Finger – can me associated with a popping sound when you are climbing a crimp.  It is damage to the flexor tendon pulleys that support the tendons that cross the finger joints. Can range from a small sprain to a tear needing surgery.
  • Stress fractures – usually around the knuckles

Shoulder injuries: Can be related to a leg slip where you hold on tight with your hand and catch your weight with your shoulder or from overuse

Prevention: If you feel your foot slipping and you already have a shoulder problem, it is sometimes safer to just let go and take the whip then it is to hold on and pull your shoulder out

My favorite treatments: Adjustments to upper back and shoulder if necessary, electrical stim, ART, kinesiology taping

  • Sprains/Strains/Tears – most common in the rotator cuff
  • Tendonitis – can happen in the rotator cuff or biceps tendon
  • SLAP lesion – aka Superior Labral tear from Anterior to Posterior.  Shoulder will feel weak and unstable.  Ice can help, but is often a surgical case.

Elbow injuries – Commonly overuse injuries from building forearm grip.

Prevention: Stretch your forearms before and after each climb with full range of motion of flexing and extending your wrist first with your palm up, then with your palm down.

  • Epicondylitis – tendonitis specific to the elbow. Can occur as lateral/outside (tennis elbow) or medial/inside (golfer’s elbow)
  • Cubital Fossa Problems – (Inside of your elbow) occur when pressure is placed on the muscles that attach in the elbow while pulling the body weight up. This can lead to inflammation and strain of the muscle-tendon junction.


Wrist injuries: Also from overuse from building forearm grip.  Also can be from cramming hand in a crack and using your wrist to lift yourself

Prevention: Stretch your forearms (described in the elbow section.) This is particularly important if you have a desk job. Going from typing for eight hours to climbing without stretching and warming up makes carpal tunnel as common as it is.

My favorite treatments: Adjustments to wrist and elbow, gua sha/graston, electrical stim, ART, kinesiology taping

  • Carpal Tunnel syndrome – up to 25% of climbers have this. entrapment of the median nerve causing numbness and tingling


Falls: After a big fall it is always recommended to see a doctor.  In extreme cases, go directly to the emergency room. But even small falls can jam an ankle or tear a shoulder bad enough to end your climbing career. See a specialist who works with climbers to make sure a fall did not effect proper motion which can cause a severe injury in the future.

Train outside the gym with exercises from DPM Climbing,, and Metolius.