Not only are we climbers on a constant battle to make it to the top, but we are also on a constant battle with our fingers; finding that perfect balance where we can pull hard while preventing finger injuries. Finger injuries are a climbers worst nightmare. Hearing a ‘pop’ or feeling intense pain in any of your fingers is both heartbreaking and devastating.
Fact of the matter is that climbing puts an enormous amount of stress on your fingers. Unfortunately it is not something we can escape, BUT, it IS something we can reduce through the use of less strenuous gripping methods and proper technique. We really take our fingers for granted and don’t realize how close we bring them to injury until that dreaded day comes when you start feeling discomfort or pain. It usually isn’t until this point that we actually stop and think of how we can take better care of our fingers. Yet, we’ll nurse them to recovery then once they’re feeling good and strong again we go back to pulling on them in the exact same ways that resulted in injury in the first place. It seems like we associate the caring of our fingers solely for the recovery of injuries and not for the prevention of injuries.
I believe a change in mindset is in order. If we want to continue climbing for an indefinite period of time in the future then we must take care of our fingers NOW. I’m sure many of you have heard of and are familiar with the open hand grip. This grip technique is the safest and least stressful on your fingers and joints. Why? Well let’s take a closer look at the anatomy of your fingers.
You finger is mostly made up of bone, ligaments (strong tissue that makes up the pulleys), and tendons (tissue that connects from muscle to bone through the pulleys). Yup, there are no muscles in your fingers. The tendons in your fingers are attached to your forearm muscle which pulls on the tendons. Now imagine your finger as 3 pieces of wood dowel joined together with hinges to create your knuckles, a piece of string attached at the top to act as you tendon, and elastic bands along the dowel that hold the string in place along the wood act as the pulleys. Ok, now imagine putting this imaginary finger on an edge hold so that only one pad is on the hold and pull down on the string as if you are acting as the forearm muscle. In this position the finger is relatively straight and the force is more evenly distributed along your finger. Now imagine bending the imaginary finger so that it is pulling on the edge with a 90 degree bend (i.e. the closed hand crimp position). As you pull on the string it will in turn put a lot of tension on the rubber bands. This position puts much more strain on your tendons, pulleys and joints which can eventually lead to tears or full rupture of the pulley. Yikes!
This is why learning and practicing the open hand grip is so important. Yes, I know that it doesn’t feel as strong and secure as a closed hand grip but that’s because you’re not strengthening it. You want to work on your open hand grip until it is just as strong as your closed hand grip. Start by practicing using this grip on your warm ups, where the climb is easier, and it will begin to build strength in your hand and forearms. Then as you become more comfortable with it try incorporating it into as much of your climbing as you can. But don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying to completely throw away the closed hand grip because there are instances when it is necessary, I’m just saying to rely on it less and make the open hand grip your primary grip technique.
Another important thing to mention is technique. Even with great open hand grip habits you can still be at risk for bad injuries without the use of proper technique. Finger injuries can easily occur when the stress on your fingers peak rapidly. Examples of this are when a foot slips or during campusing. So, to fully benefit from the open hand grip (and to just lower your risk for injury in general) be sure to focus on proper footwork and only practice campusing when you can make the move smoothly so that you aren’t loading your fingers so severely.
Remember, pulley injuries account for about 90% of all finger injuries. Don’t become a statistic.
Climb safe and please share your comments below!