Hang Just Right: Shoulder Maintenance for Climbers
Physical Therapist Esther Smith joined BD Bootcamp for a few days to work with BD Athletes Babsi Zangerl, Daila Ojeda and Colette McInerney to address any injuries they had before training. This article will highlight Babsi’s treatment protocol as her shoulder injury was limiting her ability to climb and train. Esther shares what optimal shoulder posture looks like when climbing, hanging and training.
“In February 2016, Black Diamond invited me to be the on-site Physical Therapist for BD Bootcamp, a training program for Black Diamond’s professional climbing team. I spent three days at the Mesa Rim Climbing Training Gym in San Diego, CA, working with BD Athletes Babsi Zangerl, Daila Ojeda and Colette McInerney. My job was to address any injuries that they had before they began their training cycle. As it turned out, each of the ladies had a few, mostly minor, pain complaints that we worked on.
What follows is an article that highlights the most important things I could offer to Babsi to relieve her pain while climbing, hanging and training. Upon examination, we discovered that Babsi was likely dealing with the all-too common and nasty condition of insidious onset biceps tendonitis. First, we needed to dispel the “hang like a bag of rocks on your skeletal system” myth, to explain why “hanging loose” may have led to her shoulder pain, and to address why “hanging right” might help to resolve her current injury and reduce the incident of future misuse injuries.
The question for Babsi, as is vital for the rest of us, was how could we optimize her shoulder position to maintain the health of her joints (and to resolve her pain) while she could still “rest” while hanging. Also, how could we “train” Babsi’s shoulders to be in optimal alignment while conducting off-the-wall exercises, including hang boarding.
It’s a myth of climbing beta that we’ve all heard: hanging on your bones instead of engaging muscles conserves energy while resting on a climb. The fallacy of this myth is that the human body is not manufactured to function like a bag of rocks. Hanging loose puts undue stress, wear, and tear on the soft tissues that function to connect the bones in our shoulders, leading to a host of insidious injuries. The wild thing is that climbers are hanging loose even when energy conservation isn’t a concern, such as on the hangboard or pull-up bar.”
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