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Finger Picking Good by Lisa Hathaway

Finger Picking Good by Lisa Hathaway
Finger Picking Good by Lisa Hathaway
Finger Picking Good by Lisa Hathaway
Finger Picking Good by Lisa Hathaway
January 14, 2011 -  Lisa Hathaway    

Have you noticed that your ability to dangle from ever thinning holds and steeper angles is inversely proportional to your ability to, say, tie your shoes or open a bag of chips or other seeming remedial dexterity tasks? I have … if so, read on.


Not long ago I found myself ravenous at the crag but yet AGAIN doing seemingly futile battle with the hermetic seal of the Clif Bar! I handed the offensive device to my friends toddler who proceeded to tear at the arrow with nary a hitch in her effort. Harrrrrrumph. It is really no great shock that this happens to me—and regularly—as I have been mercilessly beating down my digits for years now. And yes, I do love to crimp. Show me a jug on a steep wall and I will be panicking against the pump-a-rama time clock. Show me a hold that would suffice as a thin guitar pick and I shall be delighted! However, some of the most obvious damage I have suffered (tendon pulley pings or tendon strains to the elbow) have been on slopers and on twisting, tight finger locks with crappy feet.

When I began this affair with the rock, I wore a size 7 ring on my ring finger. Now, my college ring and others won't even slide over the first knuckle of my ring finger … barely even my pinky! (So on another note, any one out there looking for a sapphire eternity band? KIDDING! Well … ) A friend's mother, who suffered from arthritis and carpel tunnel, eying the gnarled branches that once passed for digits queried with sincere concern about my long-term prospects. Would I one day be a curled fist?

Fortunately, all is not bad. Though my fingers will no longer be insured by Lloyd's of London for the hand model career that I never had, I actually am (so far) arthritis free, with the exception of one spot on a thumb joint I avulsion fractured (tore bone off with ligament from a dislocation.) When I was a kid I watched my grandmother lose mobility in her hand after a broken wrist and thus dexterity tasks became an issue. So pretty quickly into climbing I started doing antagonistic exercises, modeled after "PNF stretching" (more below) and regular stretching, just as I would for my hamstrings. I am happy I started early, as I might not be able to hold a fork properly had I not! But it is never too late. Here are some ideas and things I do that may help. Disclaimer: I am not any type of medical professional, so before you follow any suggestions, consult with someone who may actually be qualified to give advice! ;-)

1.) Get a MetoliusGrip Saver Plus!  These little beauties are simple and affordable and portable. On the website, you check out the exercises. I carry the rubber-band part with me at all times. Addicted to "Angry Birds?" Try doing this instead! Stuck in line, on a plane, suffering a tedious drive with a sibling/parent/s.o.? A great stress reliever as well! ;-)

2.) Play the guitar (flute/piano/mandolin … ) Though seemingly counter-intuitive, I have found playing the guitar (with proper technique! and no over-gripping) excellent therapy for my left hand. If I played classical style (finger-picked) more often, I think it would be great for both.

3.) Do "PNF Stretching" for fingers. I drive a LOT for my job. So I created a PNF technique for fingers on my steering wheel. It works GREAT! Though I wouldn't recommend it for Boston rush hour … if you live in a city, well, maybe you can do it on the aforementioned tedious drives or under the table at Sushi or …

4.) Read Dr. Julian Sanders' blogs and ask him questions! He is GREAT! and funny, and a climber.  And a doctor who knows hands and fingers! Though Like me, you will probably be derelict on at least ONE of his frequent suggestion (That being don't climb/rest—we are climbers after all—how "good" can we be?!)

5.) Ice. Even when not injured. I LOVE LOVE LOVE the little freezer bags that come with produce. One can often get them at her local health-food store for free. It wouldn't be a party in Moab if I didn't have an ice bag wrapping my fingers. (Note: this is MY opinion and seems to work well for me, but I am no doctor. Just another climber trying to squeeze out another pitch!)

6.) Climb through irritation, but not pain. I find that this tenet helps ME (again, no doctor am I) on all injuries. After my last pulley injury 4 years ago, I followed advice from Tommy Caldwell who said he climbed regularly (but not through pain) after a tendon injury and it healed faster than any prior. I know not what else he did. Other than being born genetically and preternaturally gifted.

7.) REST (ewwwww!) when you need too. After red-pointing Aesthetics this year with surprise, on-the-fly, beta (yes, on the fly after 4 years of another sequence) that required turning my middle finger into the equivalent on an ice tool in a crack and hoisting my entire body weight up on said digi, I could tell I NEEDED to give it a break. And did so for 2-weeks. (Now, I didn't say I DIDN'T climb, just wayyyyy gentler.)

8.) Get X-rays. It can't hurt to know the state of the union.

So climb hard, but treat those grabbers with love! We ask a LOT of the smallest little bones in the equation!

Pics: 1.) Get Down Tonight! Crimp-cesses Misty Murphy and me getting our funk on! Play your scales! 2.) The Grip Saver 3.) Gee, I wonder why it hurts when I tie my shoes? 4.)Gnarled and Dangerous?



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