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Climber’s Finger: What It Is & How to Treat It

Author: Rosemary Buckle, M.D.

Did you know that rock climbing will become an official Olympic sport in Tokyo in 2020? Or that “the US commercial indoor climbing industry grew by 10%” in 2015, according to Climbing Business Journal?

Indoor and outdoor rock climbing is rising in popularity. In all likelihood, more kids, teens and adults will turn to climbing gyms in the years ahead as a fun, social, and accessible way to exercise. Additionally, rock climbing offers mental challenges as well as physical ones, which brings even more interest to the sport.

Let’s Talk About Climber’s Finger…

As with all sports, injuries can happen. Today, I’d like to share with you some information about climber’s finger, one of the more common climbing injuries. This overuse injury, which typically occurs in the middle or ring finger, is the result of a damaged flexor tendon pulley.

Pulleys hold the flexor tendon and sheath close to the bone. If a pulley tears, the tendons may “bowstring” (pull away from the bone), causing a trigger finger-like injury. It’s rare for one of these pulleys to rupture entirely. However, many climbers experience minor tears in one or more of these pulleys, which results in some pain and swelling.

Oftentimes, climbers continue climbing with damaged flexor tendon pulleys because they can rely on other fingers to move them along their route. However, continued climbing can cause the injury to worsen, leading to more downtime and a slower recovery.

What Should I Do About Climber’s Finger?

  • If you think you may have injured your finger while rock climbing, cease climbing immediately. Continuing to climb on the injury could cause further damage.
  • Use an NSAID to manage swelling. (If the NSAID does not appear to have any effect, then cease its use.)
  • Ice your injury to manage swelling.
  • Once swelling is completely gone, focus on strengthening the finger with gentle squeezing and stretching exercises.
  • Short-term use of a heating pad on the finger can help promote blood flow and healing.
  • Slowly return to climbing; tape your finger for security. Be aware that it can take three to four months for a flexor tendon pulley to completely heal.

Questions? See a Houston Sports Medicine Doctor

Do you think you may have climber’s finger or some other rock climbing-related injury? See a Houston sports medicine doctor near you for an evaluation. Schedule an appointment at Houston Institute for Sports Medicine & Orthopedics by calling (713) 756-5546. You can also schedule your appointment online.

Please consult with your physician before undertaking any form of medical treatment or adopting any exercise program or dietary guidelines.