Rock Climbing Safety

A growing sports activity
More than 100,000 recreational athletes in the U.S. have taken to rock climbing. The sport has evolved into an affordable, safe, and year-round activity, due largely to the population of indoor climbing gyms. There's no denying that climbing is a dangerous sport. The higher off the ground and the further from civilization you climb, the greater the risk becomes. Your safety depends on your skills and physical conditioning. Rock climbing involves a wall or rock face, rope and other aids, a belayer (a climber managing the rope), and a harness. Additional equipment includes shoes, a chalk bag, tight fitting clothing, and a helmet. Upper body strength, flexibility, and sheer determination are other requirements.

Although falls and other accidents do occur, especially in outdoor climbing where safety measures are up to the outdoor enthusiast, they are rare. Overuse injuries are much more common. The most vulnerable areas include the hand, wrist and elbows. Stress rotational force at the fingertips and knuckle joints can cause rupture of tendons. The positions required maneuvering up a rock face also call for one-armed holds, thus putting the shoulder at risk for rotator cuff tears or impingement situations. In addition, muscle strains in the lower extremity may result from reaching for toeholds with the legs and hips. As with any outdoor sport, it is best to enroll in a class to learn basis climbing and safety techniques.

Injury Prevention
Proper conditioning and warm ups take care of potential sprains, strains and other such injuries. It's most important for new climbers, who are particularly at risk for overuse, to enter the sport gradually. The demands on the entire body, from head to toe and in between, challenge areas that may not be used regularly. Develop a routine that allows for stretching of the arms, neck, shoulders, back and legs. These stretches should be done after a five to ten minute warm period. Target the forearm and fingers by squeezing a worn-out tennis ball. Using rubber bands for resistance around the fingers is one more at-home exercise you can try. Basic push-ups and pull-ups to enhance upper body strength will go a long way toward helping you conquer a rock face.

Gear up
Taping between the finger joints, around wrists, fingers, and elbows can add support and protection for the tendons. Also, you can reduce skin abrasions by taping the back of the hands and wrists in a figure eight pattern for minimal restriction. Treat and prevent blisters by taping fingers and using chalk to keep fingers from drying and to reduce friction. Check your knots, harness buckle, belay, and rappel system frequently. It is crucial that you inspect your gear regularly and replace worn equipment immediately. Invest in a good pair of climbing shoes - the tops are generally leather that is only finished on the outside, and the soles are composed of a sticky rubber compound. Also, remember that wearing a helmet could save your life.

Prepare mentally
Mental preparation is a vital part of the rock climbing experience. Taking time before and after a climbing session to focus on relaxation can help with the mindset needed to achieve greater confidence and success. Recreational climbing can be exhilarating for the mind and body. Challenge yourself and your body, but be sure to proceed with tempered enthusiasm.