Injured Reserve

At my office, we enjoy the luxury of an in-house climbing wall. Located in the vicinity of the warehouse and measuring 15 or 20 feet in height and maybe 50 feet in length, it’s no Excalibur Tower, but it does offer a goodly amount of bouldering for the vertically inclined among us. On any given day, around the lunch hour, you might find three, four, or even five individuals climbing there, music pumping from a boombox in the corner. When the weather is right, we open the loading-bay door to let in the fresh air and sunlight. But for some reason lately, the number of people rehabbing shoulder injuries in the workout area has equalled the number of climbers. Perhaps it was the long winter spent pulling plastic. For me, it’s yet another cycle in a longstanding rotator-cuff issue that’s been plaguing me for years.

It all started when I worked at the rock wall at Chelsea Piers. I climbed at that damned wall five days a week, adding on campusing and hangboarding and weight lifting… Basically, I overdid it. One day, when I was campusing past the point of exhaustion, my left shoulder started to ache and feel weak. I backed off, even did a few months with a physical therapist, but things would never be quite the same. To this day every time I start to get fit and work on “harder” routes and problems, my shoulder falls apart. It gets loose, pops, and generally hurts. When I try to pull with my left arm, everything just kind of powers down. On a recent outing in Joe’s Valley, I had to find workarounds for sequences that, were they on my right side, would have been piss. So, once again, I’ve decided to stop climbing for a while and attempt to address the problem.

My friend Rick, whose shoulder was similarly in a state of disrepair, visited an orthopedic specialist not long ago. He came back with a Xeroxed list of exercises called the “Thrower’s 10,” which, as the name would imply, was developed to help those engaged in throwing activities (pitchers, quarterbacks, dodgeball players) recover from and prevent injuries to the all-too-vulnerable shoulder joint. Rick took some time off climbing and did the Thrower’s 10 religiously, reporting excellent results. I have decided to follow suit and will report back with my findings.

Still, all this has me wondering: Why have so many of my friends and co-workers been injured as of late? And why, specifically, have they had shoulder issues? If I were to hypothesize, I might guess that it is the nature of climbing on plastic, with its high friction and lack of intermediate holds. On plastic, people end up doing a lot of long, dynamic moves and snagging distant grips with very jarring results. Of course, it could just be that we’re getting old…

I was also interested to see that there still don’t seem to be any exercises specifically for climbers with shoulder issues. At least, I have not come across any. These throwers movements seem fairly universal and may well do the trick for climbers, but I imagine there are some very important differences between the act of throwing and the act of pulling down that are not addressed in the Thrower’s 10. The overdevelopment of the lats common in climbers, for example, and the way that can pull the shoulder joint out of alignment. I know a climber who is also an orthopedic surgeon, so perhaps it’s time to see if he has any suggestions for rehab exercises. I’ll report back with any findings on this front, too.

If you have have any tips, tricks, or tales of injury woe, please do share.

Until then…