To round out this series on climbing injuries, the next few entries will get a little more personal as I present and discuss five injuries I’ve incurred during my life as a climber. I share these in the hopes that they might help other climbers/athletes first and foremost to avoid similar injuries. I also hope to help others understand that if and when injuries do occur, they can provide great insights and lessons for us in the moment as well as for our future selves as to what we should and shouldn’t do to avoid incurring such show-stopping injuries again. Every single injury or series of injuries I’ve lived through has led to a greater understanding of my own body and being, informing and shaping my life afterward in ways that I maybe never would have expected or been open to had the injury never happened.
Case Study Five: Nerve Impingement (2012)
Injury: Nerve impingement in my left arm leading to a temporary partial paralysis of my left hand and wrist.
Causal Factors: Overtraining and too much, too soon, plus a likely connection to the previous muscle tears in 2006, which I believe probably didn’t heal properly and played into this whole scenario. I dove right into training in the winter as hard as I had been training in the previous winter instead of easing into it slowly (which is way smarter). Once again, my enthusiasm got the best of me. I was stoked to try out some new, difficult opposing muscle exercises (pushing motions opposing the common “pulling” motions of climbing), which I should have waited to try until I was more conditioned. My hand started to have some numbness and to feel weak. In response, I backed off what I was doing in training, and it started improving as a result (of course; at least I’d learned something about overtraining at this point). Then I tripped and fell on a hard surface while traveling, and I put my hands out automatically to absorb the shock. This inflamed what was already inflamed even more. My radial nerve became impinged, almost cutting off the signaling from my brain to my hand. I couldn’t type or pick up a glass of water or put a rubber band in my hair, much less clip a climbing rope into a quickdraw with my left hand, for a couple months.
Recovery: I don’t want to rehash this injury here in great detail. I did seek medical help and did get a proper diagnosis and treatment plan. This involved absolutely no repetition of the motion causing the injury (i.e. no pushups and guarding obsessively against falling and catching impacts on my arm, and so forth), ample use of NSAIDs (ibuprofen multiple times a day), ice on the affected area, and an understanding that if it didn’t progressively improve or it worsened, that I would probably need surgery or risk losing full use of the limb for life. Thankfully, this injury did heal progressively and I didn’t reinjure it; gradually and ever-so-slowly, I regained the full use of my left hand and arm, and the awful feeling of paralysis, numbness and weakness subsided.
Long-Term Result: This injury was the best injury for me ever, though at the time, it was completely devastating – not just physically but also, mentally and emotionally. All of my injuries throughout life have been blessings in disguise in one way or another, whether we’re talking climbing-related physical injuries or entirely mental/emotional injuries, actually, but this could take me off on a philosophical tangent for pages and pages. The point here is that this injury forced me to take a step back and take a hard look at what I was doing to myself repeatedly in training and even beyond training (too much) and to wave it off like an MMA referee waves off a fighter from his or her already downed opponent, disallowing the opportunity for more strikes and more damage. In this case, I was fighting myself and TKO’ing myself regularly, knocking myself down not just physically, but also mentally and emotionally, completely, time and time again. This is common pattern for the zealous athlete (or any person who is overcommitted to anything), but not a very sustainable or productive approach, especially over the long term.
A frightening, sidelining injury can provide an incredible opportunity, giving you space and time that you don’t normally have to think things through while you’re away from your sport, perhaps becoming an impetus for change, for introspection and for reevaluation/examination of your approach to training, climbing or life overall…even if it only serves as a slow-it-down signal, and nothing more. It can be so desperately hard in the moment (or long, drawn-out moments) of downtime away from the activity you love to see things positively in this manner or to understand what you can take from the situation and mold into a brighter, more productive and fulfilling way of climbing, living and being. It’s not something to succeed or fail at, though; it’s a process and an opportunity for growth and learning.
This injury compelled me to reevaluate so many aspects of my being. The details don’t really matter as far as sharing all of the personal revelations and realizations that came from this. The big message from this injury for me was, “Wake up!” Stop bullying and berating and beating your being, body, mind and soul, for not performing at the levels you aspire to perform at. Find a gentler approach, a sounder path, a safer way to make this journey toward climbing harder (or whatever you dream of doing better or differently) productive and pleasant, both, for all aspects of your being, and those around you, too. Enjoy your relative state of health, strength and comfortable living situation now instead of racing for and banking on some better place that might exist some day in the future (or dwelling in the past).
It’s fine to pursue greater heights and personal goals but it’s also really important – more important – to find comfort and peace and joy with who you are, where you are and what you can do right now – and then ideally, to be able to share that sense of joie de vivre with others, without losing or compromising your own internal sense of balance, integrity and wholeness.
“What you are is what you have been, what you will be is what you do now,” according to Buddha, as quoted by Nischala Joy Devi in “The Secret Power of Yoga: A Woman’s Guide to the Heart and Spirit of the Yoga Sutras.”