I have been climbing for at least eight years and mostly indoor. I have stumbled across a few injuries along the way. I pulled a muscle in my leg by doing a weird move. That injury healed nicely after a few months. I had a tennis elbow injury that lasted about a year. This injury taught me to be a better and more efficient climber.
Click here to learn more ===> Best Exercises for Tennis Elbow – Common Injury from Rock Climbing <===
In the past few years, I have slowly developed a new injury in my right hand – the ring and middle fingers. My joints swelled up. I believed that the swelling started from climbing a bouldering route. I positioned my fingers in a medium to a small-sized pocket in a weird way. After the injury, I allowed my fingers to rest for a short period but that was obviously not long enough. Looking back, that may have been a pulley injury where I stressed the tendon pulley in my right ring and middle fingers. The most stressed finger was the right ring finger.
Pulleys are ligaments that attach the finger flexor tendons onto the finger bones. It is one of the common climbing finger injuries.
From the pulley injury, I continued to climb with only occasional resting. Once again I did not rest the injuries long enough. They continue to swell. They felt stiffed. My first thought was arthritis. However, when I did my research, I found out that they were possibly synovitis.
What is the Common Finger Pain?
According to Creakyjoints.org, synovitis is an inflammation in the synovium. It is the thin membrane that lines your joints. It is normally a few cells thick. Its job is to produce fluid that lubricates and nourishes the joint. When the membrane is irritated or inflamed, it becomes thicker and swollen with excess synovial fluid. The inflamed synovium can eventually invade and destroy the cartilage and bone within the joint.
Ooh, I definitely do not want my cartilage or bone to be destroyed. I want long term climbing opportunities with my fingers. Synovitis is a common finger pain where the finger joint is swollen from the excess synovial fluid.
Here is a great video explaining more about the joint pain of the fingers.
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The finger pulleys and synovitis of the fingers are very common injuries for climbers usually from overuse and especially climbing crimpy holds. To learn more about crimps, please visit “What are the Different Bouldering Holds and How to Work with Them?”
When climbing crimps, you can overstretch the tendon. Finger injuries are primarily due to climbers exerting great force on the finger tendons which load on the pulleys. If the force exerted is huge enough it can result in a rupture or a torn pulley.
In my case, I may have stressed my pulleys but did not tear them. I may have stressed my synovial membrane more which is why my finger joint is swollen. I could also have torn articular cartilage, labrum, or ligamentum teres by keeping on climbing crimpy routes and not resting my fingers.
Synovitis is not exactly the same as arthritis. They both deal with the inflammation of the joint however the major difference is that synovitis is affected by synovial inflammation while arthritis has very little effect on the synovial cavity. However, if the synovitis is not treated by allowing the joint to rest, it can lead to osteoarthritis in the future.
According to orthotoc.com, here are some common symptoms of synovitis:
- joint pain that ranges from mild to severe
- difficulty moving the affected area
- thickening of the tissue
- increased blood flow to the affected area
- increased fluid production
In my case, my finger swells up because of the increased fluid production. It also looks slightly bruised in the joint. My finger is definitely stiff. I have a hard time making a fist or straighten out my finger all the way.
Remedies and Prevention
The good news is that synovitis can go away on its own with rest and less to no agitation to the joints. In other words, I need to stop climbing. NO!!! NO!!! NO!!!!
We do not want to say “NO CLIMBING” to an obsessed climber like myself. How about “less climbing or climb easier routes or my finger will lose mobility and also may develop osteoarthritis.”
Here are a few remedies and/or prevention when you have finger joint pain from climbing:
- decrease the inflammation or swelling by icing it or take glucosamine chondroitin /or ibuprofen
- rests the fingers from climbing for a few weeks or more depending on the severity of pain
- visits an orthopedic doctor for hands and/or someone who understands climbing
- gets a steroid injection. This will help reduce the swelling and pain.
- does physical therapy exercises (rehabilitate). This will strengthen the fingers for climbing again.
- climb with good form and pay attention to the pain if any (prevention)
- tape the fingers before climbing (prevention). This serves as a reminder to not overuse the fingers and bring the injury back.
Here is a nice video on how to tape the fingers
Here is a nice article that shares how to manage and prevent finger injuries with a pulley injury ==> ukclimbing.com
The fingers are very important in climbing. I have not been paying enough attention to my fingers until now. My pain threshold is higher than the ordinary person so I have a tendency of ignoring the pain. However, the swelling on my fingers will not go away unless I do something about it. It will affect my overall well being in the long run.
Here is my remedy plan for my existing synovitis:
- bring down the swelling by soaking my hands in ice water for 3 minutes 3 times a day.
- take glucosamine chondroitin to help with the inflammation as well
- made an appointment to visit a hand orthopedic doctor
- climb easier routes, no higher than 5.9, and avoid crimps or routes that would stress my fingers
- work on exercises from the articles I suggested in this article
- tape my fingers before I climb
I will update this article within six months to a year to post my progress.
Quick update 2-8-21 progress ==> Finger-Strengthening Exercises and My Current Remedy for Climbing Arthritis.
I hope this article has helped you understand more about the possible finger injuries. I love to hear your experiences regarding climbing injuries and how do you treat them. Please leave me your thoughts below. Questions are welcome as well. I will reply to your comments or questions within 24 hours or as soon as I can.