Climbing and training : clarifying the Role of Pain in Injuries

One of the most frustrating things in climbing is dealing with injuries. The only thing that can make this process worse is when an injury just seems to be getting worse despite taking time off of climbing to let it heal. However, recent research into the role of pain in injuries is changing how we look at pain in the healing process and how we use it as a tool to inform the rehab process.

To clarify the role of pain in injuries, here’s an article by physical therapist William Bateman of In his article, Bateman describes how pain works and ways in which we can use this understanding to inform rehabbing our injuries.

« It wasn’t that far ago that phantom limb pain was a complete mystery. This is a sensation that someone experiences in, say their finger, after it’s been amputated. The finger no longer exists yet the person can still feel it. This is possible because sensations, such as pain, are experiences created by both your body AND your mind.


When a finger is amputated you lose the nerves that were part of the finger. You don’t lose the nerves that connect your finger to your brain, or the part of the brain dedicated to that finger. What remains are crucial components for the production of pain, and are sufficiently powerful to create pain in a limb that doesn’t exist. This is why phantom limb pain is possible.

This phenomenon has allowed us to learn a lot about how pain works. Unfortunately, misconceptions around pain are abundant, some of which dampen our ability to recover from injury. Clarifying the purpose of pain and how it works can go a long way in helping us overcome the most stubborn of injuries.

You’ve got a week left of training before you set-off for your fall climbing trip. You put your time in this year with the hopes of finally sending your long-time project. You’re feeling strong but will occasionally get an ache at the base of your left ring finger with hard bouldering sessions. It usually settles within a couple of days and you think nothing of it.


Pain is meant to protect you

When you experience pain, it is first and foremost a warning system meant to protect you from potential harm. If you take a finger and slowly start to pull back on it, you’ll experience pain before you cause tissue damage. This is meant to prevent you from going further. So you don’t cause injury. And it happens in everyday life.

If you sit on a cold rock at the crag for too long your bum will get sore. This is meant to remind you to move around. You wouldn’t have caused harm to the tissue. It’s resilient! On the other hand, if you ignored the signal to move you may eventually sufficiently restrict blood flow to your bum. And cause injury to the skin, known as pressure sores.


Perhaps a more pertinent example happens with training. If you’re pushing hard and nearing your body’s limits, you’ll start to get muscle soreness, mild pain. Or straining in and around the joints. If you stop the session when the warning signs show up, there’s a good chance your tissues will settle within a few days. And you’ll be good to start training again. The pains you experienced acted as a warning to tell you to back off. So that your tissue can recover. Not heeding the warning is a good way to get injured.

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