Climbing is a sport where you need lots of finger strength. The same goes for bouldering and alpine climbing. No matter what you do exactly, your fingers will usually be sore if you’re new to climbing. There are actually findings that show that climbers fingers and hands actually adapt to the short, intense stress climbing exposes them to. Others claim climbing can lead to early Osteoarthritis, so is climbing badly for your fingers?

 No climbing is not bad for your fingers, at least not when done right. Improper technique can lead to injuries, but proper climbing strengthens the tendons in hands and fingers, but over a long period of time. If you’re prone to arthritis, you should take extra care warming up properly and work on your finger flexibility.

Does Climbing Increase Chances to Suffer from Osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis comes from wear and tear of joints. As such, it results from improper loads and abnormal stress on the same joints over a long time. This is what happens if you put abnormal loads on your fingers and joints for decades. As of today, there is no clear indication of whether sports activities cause Osteoarthritis or not. In order to find out, studies where undertaken with young climbers. Why young climbers you might ask? If young climbers show Osteoarthritis, that would be a very safe sign that climbing actually can cause Osteoarthritis. The same cannot be said about older climbers, as they can naturally suffer from Osteoarthritis.

Don’t mistake Osteoarthritis with “normal” Arthritis; these two are not exactly the same. Arthritis is usually more severe, and as an inflammatory disease affects the joint capsules first. Osteoarthritis affects the cartilage of the joints first and is usually not so severe. This study compared 27 climbers to non-climbers and found that the answer is likely no, at least for the joints in the hand. The study found out that the climbers had stronger hands, however, and some even thicker bones. Climbing is actually likely to remodel your bones to get stronger to make them more powerful – nice side effect! This study actually found out that non-climbers had a higher chance of Osteoarthritis then climbers, especially on the joints of the thumb finger.

But results are not uniform, this study, written 2 years earlier actually found that climbers were at increased risk, as there were climbers in the study group that had signs of OA and none of the non-climbers had. Another study from 2011 supported these findings, showing that climbers showed signs of osteoarthritis sometimes.

But all of these studies had very small sample sizes and not the best methodology. In my eyes, the study with the best methodology found these results:

The more intensive you traing climbing, the more your body adapts, resulting in broadened joints. Osteoarthritic changes where rare in young climbers.

Is Rock Climbing Bad for Arthritis?

But what if you suffer from arthritis already? Is climbing badly for it? Actually, there are many physiotherapists that recommend climbing when people suffer from arthritis. Climbing is great to improve flexibility in the core and hips. And while arthritis will probably reduce climbing performance, a general regimen of sport and exercises is still good for patients with arthritis. Keeping strong muscles and flexibility is even more important when your maximum range of motion is limited because of arthritis!

Can Rock Climbing Cause Carpal Tunnel?

Carpal tunnel is a condition that causes weakness and numbness. If you ever felt these things in your thumb, index, or middle finger when climbing a longer session, it might affect you as well.

Some people are more prone to carpal tunnel syndrome than others. People that spent most of their time in front of the computer and hack on their keyboard are particularly likely to develop it. Climbers can suffer from it too, as the repetitive pattern of wrist use when climbing increases the chance of developing these problems. Especially when you hold a grip, your wrist flexors are continuously put under stress. When the muscles compress, they can actually compress the nerves, and then you suffer from numbness.

If I’m reading it correctly, it appears to state that climbing does not increase your chances of arthritis. It also states that climbing causes the bones in the fingers to be wider than non-climbers, hypothetically proposed as additional bone deposits due to the rock climbing; not causing any negative side effects, however. Also, it appears that these traits appear in people who boulder a lot and rock climb a lot.

Is Rock Climbing Bad for Your Fingers When you Age? Can You Go Rock When You Are over 50 Without Finger Problems?

Most commonly climbers injure their A2 pulley in the finger. The injuries come in 3 categories from a simple sprain over a more serious sprain to a torn pulley. And the injuries take a long time to recover, especially for climbers of age over 50.

But climbing also strengthens the tendons of the fingers, so if you are careful, and have a disciplined training approach (i have an article about it here), there is a good chance of being in your 60s or 70s and climbing quite well. I actually know a lot of older climbers who are still sending hard routes, are all over 60, and have no problems with finger or hand pain.

Related Questions

How Can I Let My Hands Heal After Rock Climbing?

Skin problems are a typical problem for climbers. If you want to keep your skin in working condition for climbing, there are some easy tips you can follow. They will all help you to climb harder, and more often.

Tip for better skin healingWhen to doWhy it’s effective
Wash hands after climbingAfter your sessionRemoving dirt and chalk from scratches and wounds will decrease the chance of infection, and help hands to recover
Putting on Lotion before bedImmediately before you go to bedThe lotion will recover the natural fatty film of your skin and moisturize it. By applying before you sleep, the lotion has a good chance to be fully effective, and you can use a very thick formula, that would normally interfere with not leaving greasy stains on clothing and work.
File calluses downWhenever you have timeCalluses can get compressed and actually increase the change of flappers, read more about it here. So better file them down and keep a minimal thin layer of hardened skin.
Try different chalk brandsWhen training, not on on-sight attempts!Some chalk is more aggressive on your hands than others, give yourself a chance to find the right one by trying out different brands, and see how your skin reacts.
Minimize hot water exposure of your handsWhenever you wash hands or dishesHot water dries out your skin, read more about it here. Simple turn the water a bit cooler, it will still remove dirt and stains well.

Will Rock Climbing Get You in Shape?

It will get you in better shape than doing nothing. It’s not the Nr.1 sport to burn off calories, but it does burn between 500-900 calories in one hour, depending on how much you rest between routes. It also helps build some muscles in your body and keeps you flexible, although it is no way to build a bodybuilder physique. If you want to get in shape, combine climbing with some dedicated strength training and 1-2 times running per week, and you will be in very good shape quickly!

What Is Finger Tape for Climbing?

Climbing tape or also called finger tape is used to protect the skin and tendons of your fingers to put it simply. If you want to know more about it, I wrote an article about it here.

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