Finger Injury Advice

Posted: 10-05-2012

Hey Timy,

I recently injured an A2 pulley in my middle finger. The injury is not debilitating but it is getting worse and does inhibit me from gripping maximally.

I have read an enormous amount of advice on the internet from fairly credible sources that advocates some climbing in the recovery period to help strengthen the tendon. The problem is these articles don’t elaborate on how much easy climbing is necessary or what kind of other exercises can be done to return to climbing strong. For instance, would it be possible to do a period of large volume “jug” climbing in order to build a base and retain climbing specific movements before your finger heals at which point you could focus on intensity?

Anyway, I’m blabbing here but I would appreciate any help you could give. I have quite a few competition and real rock goals coming up and I would hate to waste time with bad decisions.

Thanks a lot,

Thank you for your inquiry. This is a very common injury and presents a particularly stressful dilemma for a serious climber moving into the prime Fall climbing season. I have personal experience with this type of injury and have seen many of my close friends and training partners confront this type of injury with varying results. Having tried and seen different tactics to treat this injury, I would recommend the following process to address your situation:

Immediately cease all finger-related training (rock climbing, fingerboard, campus board)
Obtain a proper diagnosis from a hand specialist/medical professional (get a second opinion if the diagnosis seems off base)
Explore treatment options (contrast therapy, laser therapy, acupuncture, prolo-therapy, meso-therapy, platelet rich plasma therapy, surgery, splinting)
Undergo appropriate treatment protocol (this may consist of a combination of the above mentioned forms of treatment)
Visit an occupational therapist/hand specialist to assess proper rehab protocols and timeframes associated with your injury
Obey recommended abstinence from rock climbing and finger related sport specific training modalities following the treatment period
Gradually re-introduce rock climbing as an extension of physical therapy
Future injury prevention: use proper warm-up techniques and maintain physical therapy as pre-hab on an ongoing basis.

Based on the limited information that you provided it seems that you may be skipping most of the aforementioned crucial steps to the process that I would personally obey. Some of the proposed steps may not take very much time or could overlap. I’ve seen too many instances where climbers prolong their injuries, re-injure the soft tissue or develop a chronic problem that requires more invasive measures at a later point in time. I’m sure that I am not telling you what you want to hear. But you must consider the long term consequences to your climbing ability verses your short term desire to climb this Fall. Statistically, you won’t beat the odds. I have witnessed many 2-3 month treatment and recovery time scenarios become 6-8 month sagas due to the reluctance of the climber (myself included) to follow the proper protocol. Worse yet, I have seen many of my friends on the bouldering world cup circuit ruin their fingers and careers due to their reluctance to properly address these types of issues.

Without knowing the severity of your injury, your ability level and the amount of time you have been injured I am not able to accurately asses your situation and make a credible recommendation as to which course of action to take. Besides, I am not a medical professional. Although I have extensive first hand experience with many alternative and modern therapies for these types of injuries, I always seek professional treatment. Even if I have more direct experience with the myriad of treatment modalities than many healthcare professionals (which is often the case), I choose to subject myself to their care for the sole reason that I recognize that whenever I have encountered a sports injury I have become too emotionally entwined with the injury and the potential loss to my performance. This emotional attachment renders me incapable of making rational decisions pertaining to my treatment/therapy without proper counseling and advice from an informed 3rd party. This is a crucial point of understanding that we must all reach within ourselves to increase our odds of overcoming injuries. In my experience, stronger climbers/athletes are horrible at this aspect of managing their destiny – myself included!

If you get a professional diagnosis I would be happy to share my experience with the various treatment options that may be recommended to you. Good luck,