Just over 8 weeks ago, I learnt what should be a lifelong lesson. I was climbing a lot and felt like I was getting strong and was probably climbing the best I’ve ever climbed. It was mid-October and unsurprisingly increasing wet in Bristol and so inevitably evenings and wet weekends were spent bouldering at The Climbing Academy.
I first started to notice some ‘niggles’ in the September just before and threw the idea around briefly to turn down the intensity a notch. At about the same time I experienced a strange and rather unpleasant nerve pain in my right arm whilst climbing at the Works. This was in hindsight my body’s first effort at getting my attention to slow down or at the very least take a rest day from time to time…. of course I didn’t listen. At the beginning of October I managed to tweak my shoulder, again bouldering indoors whilst avoiding the soggy conditions outside. It felt a little bit like it had been pulled from its socket. After taking a rest day, I was back on it the day after and the same disconcerting thing happened to my shoulder, only this time it was worse. This, obviously was again my body attempting to obtain my attention with a little more pain stimuli, so much so that I listened for a fleeting moment and reluctantly took a week off from climbing. I had been incredibly psyched up until this point and it was probably that psyche that was preventing me from hearing my body screaming at me. Only hindsight again tells me that this is the moment I should have gone to see Nina Leonfellner, my physio.
So after a week’s rest, I was back at the wall and on quite a do-able boulder circuit, I pulled through to match a small positive crimp and when doing so heard a disturbing snapping/cracking/popping noise. I looked to my friend who’s face was now a grimace and I quickly realised the noise had come from my finger. Things were not looking too good and thoughts of my finger injury from the previous August filled my mind. On that occasion I had been told to stop climbing for a few weeks, something every climber dreads to hear, let alone listen to. Three minutes later a burning pain engulfed my finger.
After doing my own thorough, self-diagnostic research online and with communication with Nina, we worked out it might well be a ruptured A4 pulley and if so would never completely heal. I would be left with a permanent reminder of the consequence of not listening when your body is trying to tell you something. I splinted it for the next week as per her advice and the news I really wasn’t prepared to hear was confirmed by an ultrasound soon after. I took a forced 5 weeks off climbing; only concentrating on completing the rehab which Nina had designed for me. I am now allowed to climb again but obviously need to be careful for the foreseeable future and adopting my climbing style to something a little less ‘full-crimp’ to prevent future injury has become of upmost importance. I had an appointment with the hand surgeon yesterday and was advised that my finger could be operated on, a tendon from my hand could be used effectively create a new one in my finger. This however comes with the standard risks and there is no guarantee it would be successful. We decided it best to wait for six months and see how I progress with Nina’s rehab. I will get my fitness back fast and I am more determined than ever to raise my own bar a little and push hard for greater climbing gains. It annoys me a bit that I didn’t listen and that this could have possibly been prevented however I also believe that sometimes you might just have to accept injury to really understand that prevention is far better than cure. It slows you down, teaches you to take a step back from the emotional connection of climbing and realise the very real risks of injury and the longer term effects it could have. I just want to climb and I want to climb for many years to come.
So, here I am in a tent somewhere in the peak. Its about -6 outside and conditions in the morning will be perfect. I wanted to end this by telling you to not be the person who believes ‘that won’t happen to me’. I wanted to tell you about the importance of preventative physio and how we can all warm up before a session more efficiently to prevent injury. All this information and advice however is already well documented and still it falls on deaf ears as it did mine and now yours.