A climber with a finger injury….
This blog is inspired by a client who had attended the clinic with a finger injury. As part of his assessment we noticed how poor his finger flexibility was particularly on the injured hand. If you take a look at the photo below you will notice on his right hand close to the camera his fingers are level with the palm of his hand. On his left hand, the fingers dip downwards from the palm of the hand. This is more obvious when you compare it to the post treatment photos on the right. His fingers on his right hand now extend below the level of his palm.
So what are the implications of poor wrist & finger flexibility?
Well…..increased risk of injury to the finger tendons, the pullys or the finger joints.
The flexibility of the fingers to extend backwards linked to the tightness in the muscles that flex the fingers. These are in the forearm on the palm side. If these muscles are very tight then there is increased tension through the tendons into their fingers which limit the range to which the fingers can extend. If there is already increased tension in these tendons from tightness in the forearm, then any additional loading onto the tendons can cause them to tear. Loads could be feet unexpectedly cutting loose of a wall and loading body weight on to that hand, a very strenuous move weighting the hand or an increase in training load. Increases in training load includes not enough rest days, or the introduction of specific finger training exercises without enough rest between training/climbing sessions. This is covered in more depth in another of my blogs about forearm tightness.
To improve flexibility do some forearm specific stretches, self massage or foam roll the arm (covered below). You should also check your climbing shoulder mechanics. Sometimes when I see very tight arms, or very muscular arms without very muscular upper back, I will check how the climber uses their shoulder when pulling on a hold. Often the climber will have a tendency to overuse the upper shoulder and the forearm, rather than the muscles between the shoulder blades/upper back. This leads to more load through the forearm. This topic is covered in more detail here.
Forearm and Wrist Stretches
Self Massage for Tight Forearms
One of the most effective ways to loosen out your arm is to perform a massage on it. Self-massage can be performed using foam rollers, massage sticks and simple items like tennis balls. See photos below.
Massage out the arm for 20-60 seconds. Some mild tenderness may be experienced but don’t dig into the arm excessively. No soreness should be felt immediately after you stop massaging or you have over done it. Don’t massage over the bony surface of the arm, elbow or wrist as this can cause discomfort.
You may need to apply additional pressure by placing one arm over the other as your self-massage. Do it straight after sport to help with recovery. It can be done daily if the massage is light. Do not massage over areas that are tender from a previous massage.