Become a Member

Get access to more than 30 brands, premium video, exclusive content, events, mapping, and more.

Already have an account? Sign In

Become a Member

Get access to more than 30 brands, premium video, exclusive content, events, mapping, and more.

Already have an account? Sign In

Brands

Skills

Dr.’s Orders For Preventing Finger Pulley Sprains

Enjoy unlimited access to Climbing’s award-winning features, in-depth interviews, and expert training advice. Subscribe here.

Strains, sprains and other injuries are common among climbers, but they don’t have to be. Sign up for Strength Training For Injury Prevention with Dr. Jared Vagy and you’ll learn the proper way to train, and  be on your way to injury-free climbing.

Signs and Symptoms

You’re right at the tail end of two days straight of projecting your latest crimpfest boulder problem. Tired and ready to throw in the towel, you nonetheless decide to give it one last shot. You aggressively move through the opening sequence, gripping each hold tightly like your life depends on it. You reach the crux, already shaking from fatigue. You throw for the next crimp and hear a loud POP! as you catch it. You manage to hold on and send the bloc. However, as you downclimb off the back of the boulder, you realize that you’ve just suffered some sort of acute damage. Chances are, it’s one of the most common injuries climbers face: a pulley sprain in your finger.

The muscles in our forearms attach to long, narrow tendons as they reach into the fingers. These tendons run through sheaths and are anchored by pulleys that keep the tendons gliding flush to the bones. There are five annular pulleys that sling around the bone, and four cruciform pulleys that form a cross over the bone to secure the tendon.

When you place excessive strain on the finger tendons, the pressure exerts an outward force on the pulley that may strain or tear it. You should be aware of movements that can increase stress on the pulley and potentially lead to pain and injury. Oftentimes, with a pulley sprain, there will be tenderness along the injured pulley, stiffness when bending the fingers, and pain when actively crimping and gripping. A pulley sprain can occur over any digit, but is most common over the base of the ring finger.

However, fear not. You can avoid pulley sprains by being mindful of your hold selection as well as by performing this targeted exercise to strengthen the antagonist muscles in the finger.

Movement Tip: Hold Selection

Dynamic moves to and from small edges, pulling too much with your fingers on small holds, and the repetitive use of full crimps can all increase stress on your pulleys. Try to perform large moves from small edges more statically and push with your feet instead of pulling with your fingers. To avoid injury, when possible choose an open-hand grip over a full crimp. However, this is not a hard-and-fast rule. The nature of the hold will determine the safest grip. If a crimp is needed, then first utilize a half crimp, then if it’s a must, use a full crimp.

Open Hand Grip Rock Climbing Finger Injury Prevention Rehab
The open-hand grip.
Half Crimp Grip Rock Climbing Finger Injury Prevention Rehab
The half crimp grip.
Full Crimp Grip Rock Climbing Finger Injury Prevention Rehab
The full crimp grip.

Recommended Exercise: Child’s Pose Finger Lifts

Perform this exercise to improve motor coordination and strengthen the individual finger extensors in a weight-bearing position. Strengthening the extensors in the back of the finger helps to balance out the forces acting on the pulleys in the front of the finger.

Instructions

  1. Start on all fours on your hands and knees, making sure your knees are under your hips, and your hands are directly under your shoulders.
  2. Rock back into Child’s Pose, pressing into the ground with your fingertips. Spread your fingers wide on the ground, and then lift each individual finger off the ground, doing one hand at a time. Your fingernail should be traveling toward the ceiling; hold this position for 1–2 seconds before lowering. Do 3 sets of 5 repetitions on each finger.
  3. Be sure to keep all other fingers flat on the ground while lifting only one finger on each hand at a time.
  4. Take a 10-second break in Child’s Pose.
  5. To up the challenge, come back onto all fours and perform another set in this position.

Frequency

3 sets of 5 repetitions on each finger, on both hands, in either or both body positions.

Props

None; can use tape to hold other fingers down if stiff or resistant to straightening.

Strains, sprains and other injuries are common among climbers, but they don’t have to be. Sign up for Strength Training For Injury Prevention with Dr. Jared Vagy and you’ll learn the proper way to train, and  be on your way to injury-free climbing.