Injuries and Medical Advice

Finger Injuries on a Hangboard

Q:

I was hanging on a fingerboard with my index and ring fingers of both hands when I heard a pop and felt a sharp pain. It has been four weeks, and there’s still pain. I have no problem squeezing putty or other climbing/grip-enhancing tools, but occasionally I’ll grab something and feel an intense sharp pain in my wrist, on the opposite side of my thumb. It hurts mildly when I squeeze anything, but is most painful when resistance is applied to my extended ring finger.

—Josh via e-mail

A:

Injuring yourself on the hangboard is deflating. You were not going for glory, you were not in a memorable location with a good mate; there’s no upside, so to speak. But training is usually necessary to get to places you want to go.

Try the Dr. J test, where you pull on each finger in an open-hand position while actively curling the remainder into your palm. My bet is that you will really wince when the little or middle finger is flexed into your palm while you pull on the ring finger, as if pulling on a ring-finger mono pocket. If you are going to have an injury, this is the most likely and preferable one, because you can probably still climb.

One thing is for sure, the pain in your wrist is a neurological ruse and is almost certainly referred from either your palm or your forearm. In your palm the likely source is the fourth lumbrical muscle, but could also be the third palmar interosseous or flexor digiti minimi; without being able to conduct orthopaedic tests, I can’t say which. The pain could also arise from a small tear where the tendons come together at the muscle belly in your lower forearm (two primary muscles, each with four tendons, cause finger flexion).

Again, the good news is that you will likely be able to climb, without pain, as long as you don’t split the neighboring fingers away from your ring finger, such as when you are pulling on a two-finger pocket with your middle and ring fingers and curl the little finger into your palm.