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.
Finger Picking Good by Lisa Hathaway
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! http://metoliusclimbing.com/grip_saver_plus.html 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?!) http://www.drjuliansaunders.com/
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? KennanHarvey.com 4.)Gnarled and Dangerous? MoonPhoto.com