Monday, 3 September 2012

Finger injury from rock climbing

Unless you are extremely lucky, Being injured is something you are going to have to deal with in your rock climbing career. Whether that's a slight muscle pull, a twisted ankle, a strained ligament or something more serious such as a broken bone or a blown tendon, it will inevitably happen if you continue to climb and push yourself. Hopefully you'll get away with one of the former rather than the latter. 

Personally, I suffered a finger injury when I was 17 or 18 (I can't remember exactly what year it was - but roughly 7 years ago now). It hurt like hell and I couldn't use the finger for a while, so I took some time off. (I've mentioned all of this before in a previous blog.) However, I chose not to get my finger seen by an expert at the time. I preferred to wait and see. Would it heal by itself? Maybe I'm just being overly dramatic... give it time. You'll be fine. These are the things I kept telling myself. Anyway, after roughly 6 months I was getting back into climbing, slowly but surely.

First lesson to be learnt from this: go see a doctor or physio if you suffer a serious injury that requires you to take more than a week or two off climbing. To this day, my finger still hurts. Can you guess which finger I damaged all those years ago...?

Note: I can't fully extend that finger (I can't place it flat to the table) so the knuckle is slightly nearer the camera than the others, giving it a somewhat exaggerated profile. However, it is still a lot larger than the others.

Anyway, the reason I'm writing about this again: lately, the same finger on my left hand has started giving me some problems as well. It hurts, in short. Especially when pulling on crimps. The closed crimp position, for example, is not very comfortable at all. No singular event has brought this pain on. I didn't do what I did to my right hand. I didn't have a moment when I came off a climbing hold feeling like my hand was going to explode, searing pain sliding up my arm, past my elbow and screaming at my brain: "STOP CLIMBING!" No. That didn't happen this time. It has just started hurting over time. 

So I started to wonder. Friends told me to go and get it checked out. I brushed this off as overly-dramatic again. But the pain wasn't going away. So I made the decision to swallow my pride and do something I haven't done in... well I don't know how long, I can't remember the last time I went to the doctor. (Ah yes, quick note: I thought it was a doctor I was going to see, but it turns out it was a physio with expertise in hand injuries, apparently.) This was last week.

To cut a long story short (I might have already run past the 'short' stop and powered on to the village of 'long' - apologies if this is the case), I was told what I have is not an 'injury' as such but a 'chronic' problem - i.e. it is not treatable but is manageable. It won't fully heal over time and I'll probably never get full mobility back. But some of the swelling should subside and the pain will most likely be replaced with a dull ache. Like old people with chronic knee pain that complain about the cold weather.

I knew what I had to do before I went to see the expert if I wanted the pain to go away - I need to take a break from climbing. I believe the last time I had 2 consecutive weeks off was some time in 2010, when I went on holiday. The last time I had a month off was in 2009, when I went traveling around the US of A. 

So, when will I rest? I have a Fontainebleau trip coming up in October so I won't be resting until at least mid-October, but then I can think about having a little bit of time off. Climbing outside actually feels much better on my joints than climbing inside all the time, so maybe I just need to modify my habits as well, to ensure I'm outside more often than in. Quite difficult considering the weather we've had in the UK this summer. We'll see how things go anyway. I just had a brilliant weekend on the grit stone and my joints are feeling pretty good this week, so fingers-crossed (if I could) I've found a way to carry on climbing without the pain.

Have you had any finger injuries? Or how about any niggling or recurring finger pain? How do you deal with it? Any secret hints and tips? I'd love to hear from you. Comment below.