Tag Archives: take time off

Improve Your Sport Climbing (15): Injuries, Part 9 (HARD)

I10

So I’m Injured, Now What? (III) – Mental and Emotional Challenges

In addition to physical pain, the mental and emotional aspect of climbing injuries should not be downplayed or underestimated, especially severe injuries that put you squarely on the sidelines for a lengthy period of time and/or call into question your body’s ability to handle what you want it to be able to do (climb!). It’s common to feel depressed, irritable and unmotivated when injured, and it’s also common to feel guilty about having such feelings, e.g. “I don’t have a right to feel depressed; I still have all the normal luxuries of my Western life so I’m just being selfish by having these types of feelings at all.”

While we undoubtedly enjoy an incredible quality of life compared to many other places in the world, one that allows us the indulgence of filling our free time with things like rock climbing, this doesn’t take away from the fact that a sudden decrease in physical activity – and especially one that’s so engaging and consuming as rock climbing (or any similarly pursued athletic endeavor) – can lead to a cascade of mental-emotional impacts, suffered as a result from the abrupt removal of the regular activity level and the consequent mental-physical-emotional disruption. In other words, it’s not just you being a selfish person for feeling badly that you can’t climb; it’s your whole being reacting to the situation – and you feel it in your mind as well as your body. And if you’re going to feel guilty that not climbing is making you feel depressed or down or grumpy, you might as well just feel guilty all the time about climbing even while you can climb, too – the same rules apply; it’s a privilege to have the freedom to climb at all.

So don’t feel badly that you feel badly; this is unproductive and will only make the feeling bad even worse. Instead, try to acknowledge your feelings and accept them as valid, and do what you can to mitigate symptoms and find joy in the process of injury recovery. How to do this will vary for each individual. For some injured folks, being around other climbers or hearing about rock climbing only compounds the sense of depression at not being able to participate (sort of like hanging out and drinking water while all your friends are getting hammered to hilarity on the hard stuff); for others, being around climbing and climbing conversion gets them outside of themselves and helps remind them of what they’re working back toward being able to do.

Another great perspective to keep is to remember that all is not lost – that you will not “lose everything,” which is a common fear for injured climbers/athletes. Depending on how long you’re out, you will lose some fitness, sure, and if you’re out for a substantial time with no climbing-relevant physical activity (a month or longer), you may experience some strength loss, too. But, it takes the body much longer to lose strength gains than it does to make them; the body is reluctant to let go of such hard-fought gains (strength gains take a long time to manifest when compared to endurance gains). Also, once you’ve worn a path into your body once, it’s way easier to get back to that level again than it was to get there in the first place; the body “remembers” where you were (not exactly correct, but a good image/way to think about it). And your brain does remember how to climb, though it may feel rusty at first when you get back. You will not be starting at square one, and you’re likely to get back to where you were before the injury much faster than you might expect.

Staying physically active, as mentioned in the previous entry, is a great way to help decrease withdrawal-from-climbing and concern-about-future-climbing symptoms, as is a proactive rehabilitation/climbing-training plan that is workable without causing further harm while you’re injured. Another coping mechanism is to delve into an entirely different activity (physical or not) that you normally don’t have time to do while you’re climbing but that you’re interested in, like taking an online or community course on a topic of interest, volunteering for a worthy cause, and so forth. Keeping yourself occupied instead of spending your normal climbing/training time perseverating on what you can’t do and feeling sorry for yourself can go a long way to keeping your spirits relatively high, which in turn can actually influence the pace/outcome of your injury in terms of healing time.

“Emerging and converging evidence support the perspective that the mind and body are inextricably linked and function in an integrative manner to mediate the manifestation of maladaptive autonomic nervous system responses (ANS) that can result in symptoms and eventual illness, and in the realm of sports, drive competitive anxiety, reduced attention, diminished motor control and consequent poor performance. … Identifiable mind-body processes and interactions that have been harnessed therapeutically to ameliorate symptoms and promote well-being have also been shown to enhance self-regulation and improve performance.” (from Evidence-Based Applied Sport Psychology: A Practitioner’s Manual, by Roland A. Carlstedt, Ph.D.)

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!

Improve Your Sport Climbing (15): Injuries, Part 8 (HARD)

I8

So I’m Injured, Now What? (II) – Physical Training

Assuming your injury is serious enough to warrant a diagnosis and treatment plan from a healthcare professional, get a timeline from this trusted source to help you plan your recovery period and to take the fullest advantage of your time off from climbing as you can in terms of physical fitness maintenance or even potential gains. Ask for an assessment what you can do, given the parameters of your injury. If you don’t like the answer, consult with several more specialists. Ask for healing markers that will indicate if/when you should be doing certain activities, as well as what you should not be doing. Follow the guidelines but don’t be afraid to ask questions.

Above all, do not do anything to make your injury worse. This becomes your No. 1 training/climbing performance goal once an injury has occurred: to heal the injury and get back to 100 percent as quickly as possible. This means not making ill-advised in-the-moment decisions that will impact you negatively for months or even years into the future.

Informed by your healthcare professional’s advice and treatment plan, create a physical training/rehab plan that respects your body’s need to heal. Use the time as efficiently and effectively as possible, understanding that sitting around feeling bad about not being able to climb and concurrently severely decreasing the amount of physical activity you’re doing can contribute to injury-related mental-emotional health issues (topic of next entry), as well as making your comeback harder. Bodies that are used to a high level of physical activity can undergo severe withdrawal on many levels if the customary activity level suddenly declines significantly or stops entirely.

If you can’t do anything at all related to climbing, then work to figure out what works best for keeping yourself fit, maybe another activity entirely. You may also have some mandated physical therapy/rehab exercises; these take top priority in any smart injury-recovery training plan. However, if you can and have the desire to, times of injury can actually provide a much-needed impetus to train specific areas that could use more attention but that fall by the wayside when you’re healthy. A few examples: an injured ankle can often allow for upper-body training, while an injured finger can often allow for core/flexibility training. Instead of fretting about and ruminating on what you can’t do, look at what you can do and do that, knowing that you will be grateful not only now to have something to do physically but also, as you come back to an uninjured state to have kept your physical activity level as high as you could without sabotaging your body’s healing process.

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!

Improve Your Sport Climbing (15): Injuries, Part 7 (MEDIUM-HARD)

I7

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!