So I’m Injured, Now What? (I) – First Steps
Forgive me if I state the obvious here, but if you incur a climbing injury and you have any doubt or question about what you’ve injured, the severity of the injury and/or how to best treat and recover from the injury, seek advice from an appropriate healthcare professional (i.e. not your climbing buddy or even your climbing trainer; though these people might have personal, anecdotal and potentially helpful advice about how to handle an injury, they’re not the people to turn to for primary advice or guidance) and preferably one who is familiar with diagnosing and treating climbing injuries. This should be the primary step in every climber’s (and every athlete’s) recovery plan.
I say “should be,” though, knowing full well that certain circumstances may make for a reluctance to pursue this option. First and foremost is the preventative cost of healthcare diagnostics, particularly for people who are uninsured or underinsured; it can be daunting to face an array of suggested medical procedures that are far beyond your ability to pay for – though hopefully most climbers have adequate healthcare, thus removing this barrier to appropriate diagnosis and treatment.
Cost aside, I think another barrier to seeking appropriate treatment is fear of outcomes – in other words, fear that the healthcare professional will pass judgment on your injury that you simply don’t want to hear, like mandating a certain amount of time off from climbing or a surgical procedure you’re not interested in pursuing immediately. Healthcare professionals can at times also (without necessarily meaning to) plant real seeds of doubt in a person’s mind about potential for full or quick recovery (e.g. “I’ve never seen anyone have a normal “x” or recover fully after such an injury”). Even other climbers can do this; the first time I injured a finger I was told that it would “never be the same” by another climber; of course, I have no idea which finger that was at this point!
However, a fear of hearing what you don’t want to hear from a qualified healthcare professional shouldn’t prevent you from seeking their advice. If you don’t like what you hear or what’s suggested for treatment/time-off/rehab, seek a second or third or even fourth opinion. Physicians’ and physical therapists’ words and treatment plans aren’t set in stone; it’s your body and your choice, ultimately, what you do to handle the injury. Generally speaking, though, the more you get the same advice/opinion from different reputable sources, the more assured you can be that you’re choosing the smartest course toward healing your injury in the quickest and most thorough fashion available.
Please do not simply tape up the injury, downplay it or pretend that it doesn’t exist. This also may seem like stating the obvious, but it happens. People tape mildly injured fingers and climb on them until they’re severely injured, boulder with somewhat busted ankles and then land on them and wind up with severely busted ankles, and climb (hard) on strained muscles, tendons and ligaments that would benefit from more rest and recovery. Remember that you’ll regret it in the future if you don’t give it a chance to heal when it’s not as big a deal; it’s better to give up three weeks now than to give up three months three weeks from now after three more weeks of abusing an already-injured body part.
This multipart series of blogs and articles starts here, in case you have to catch up – you’ll also find a full table of contents, complete with links, in that entry. My designation of each area as “easy,” “medium” or “hard” is purely subjective. I’ve arrived at the designations from my personal experience garnered from 20+ years of climbing along with observations I’ve made as a climbing coach/certified personal trainer. You may find some of the areas harder or easier to change. You also might not agree with me or my take on things. That’s fine – feel free to take it or leave it as you wish! Also, remember that the information I provide here is purely offered as advice and that no exercises or training program should be undertaken without receiving medical clearance from a healthcare professional.
One other caveat: As will be true for all of the entries and articles in this series, if you’ve already mastered or maxed out the topic at hand to the best of your ability level, you’ll reap far fewer benefits or none at all from my suggestions – good for you that you figured it out, but sorry I couldn’t help you out more. Happy climbing and training!