Climbing

01 Overview

Once a niche sport, climbing has been steadily gaining popularity worldwide. Climbing can take place indoors or outdoors. In bouldering, climbers go up and across rock formations or walls close to the ground. Climbing is governed locally by Sport Climbing BC, and will debut at the 2020 Summer Olympics. While there is risk for physical injury in climbing, there is some evidence that these injuries can be prevented.

(see Section 04 - Prevention)
Athlete silhouette
View Common Injuries by clicking the blue dots on the silhouette

Injuries to the fingers and wrist are common in climbing due to the repetitive gripping motions involved in this activity.

Repetitive overuse injuries in climbing occur in the shoulders, resulting in sprains and strains.

Repetitive overuse injuries in climbing occur in the elbow, resulting in sprains and strains.

Knee injuries are associated with falls.

Ankle injuries are associated with falls.

Climbers often report foot pain. Although climbing shoes should fit snugly, foot pain has been linked to climbers wearing shoes that are too tight.

02 Injury Statistics

Lower extremities are the most frequently injured body part, at almost half of all injuries. The prevalence of rock climbing injuries varies widely. Regardless of the cause of injury, anywhere between 10% and 81% of rock climbers will report having suffered an injury; 10% to 50% suffer impact injuries, and 28% to 81% suffer non-impact acute trauma injuries. A reported 33% to 44% of rock climbers will suffer from a chronic overuse injury. Three-quarters of climbers report having to remove their shoes intermittently to relieve discomfort. Of the climbers studied, 98% were found to be wearing excessively tight climbing footwear.

Curious about the research on injuries?

It is estimated that...

View Summary of Incidence Rates

03 Risk Factors

  • Indoor vs. Outdoor Climbing

    Outdoor bouldering has a higher risk of finger injury as compared to indoor, while indoor bouldering has a higher risk of fall-related injury as compared to outdoor.

  • Sex

    Females may be at higher risk of sprains while climbing, while males may be at a higher risk of lacerations and fractures.

  • Years of Climbing Experience

    Climbers with more years of experience may be at a higher risk for climbing injuries.

  • Previous History of Injury

    The average probability of sustaining an injury with a reported history of injury when climbing is 1 in 3. The average probability of sustaining at least one repetitive overuse re-injury is 63%.

  • Age

    Older age may increase the risk for hand and finger injuries, while younger climbers may be at greater risk of re-injury.

  • Higher Body Mass Index (BMI)

    BMI is a measure of body composition based on your weight and height. Higher BMI may be a risk factor for injury and re-injury for climbers.

View Summary of Risk Factors

04 How can I prevent injury?

Wrist-taping and strength training can reduce your risk of injury.

Some muscle soreness or joint pain is expected when increasing your level of physical activity. It is important to listen to your body for persistent or worsening pain, and to know when to rest. Learn more about how to prevent injuries in rock climbing.

  • Participant & Parent

    Talk to your climbing club or organization, if applicable, about the prevention strategies below and how they might be incorporated into training and policies.

    Strength Training and Neuromuscular Training Program

    Chronic injuries, including to the shoulder and wrist, can be a problem for rock climbers. Incorporating shoulder and wrist injuries into your strength training program can help reduce your risk of injury.

    Fingerboards
    Fingerboards are equipped with various grips and are designed to be grasped with the feet not touching the ground for brief periods at high-intensity. A 4-week fingerboard training regimen can increase your grip strength and endurance, particularly among highly advanced competitive boulderers.

    Oslo Sport Trauma Research Centre Neuromuscular Training
    The Oslo Sport Trauma Research Centre has developed exercises that specifically help reduce the risk of injury to the shoulder and back. This resource includes videos and PDFs for download.

    Learn more about exercises to help prevent shoulder injuries.

    Learn more about exercises to help prevent back injuries.

    For more exercises, visit http://fittoplay.org/.

    Managing Concussion

    While a concussion is not the most common injury in rock climbing, it is important to be aware of concussion signs and symptoms and know what to do if concussion is suspected. The Concussion Awareness Training Tool (CATT) is an online resource for participants and parents to learn more about how to recognize, prevent, and manage a concussion. CATT also includes resources on how to respond to a potential concussion situation, as well as detailed Return to School and Return to Sport protocol. 

    Other Considerations (about this section)

    Education
    Learn about proper climbing techniques, use of climbing gear, how to belay other climbers, safety tips, and how to fall properly. Climb in the presence of a spotter.

    AdventureSmart is a national program providing information to keep you safe while participating in outdoor recreational activities.

    Learn more about outdoor climbing safety.

    Equipment
    It is important to have the appropriate type of climbing shoes for your level of activity. Climbers report foot pain when climbing, often wearing shoes that are too tight.

    Ensure that you have climbing gear that is in good working condition. Helmets provide protection from falling rocks and the impact from a fall.

    Sport-related Physicals
    Climbing is a physically demanding sport and some pre-existing conditions may increase the risk of injury. An annual sport-related physical evaluation ensuring fitness to participate can help to reduce risk of injury. KidsHealth provides information about what sports physicals are, why they may be appropriate and where you may go to get them.

    Learn more about Kids Health Sports Physicals.

  • Coach & Teacher

    Talk to your organization, climbing club, or school about the prevention strategies below and how they might be incorporated into training and policies.

    Strength Training and Neuromuscular Training Program

    Chronic injuries, including to the shoulder and wrist, can be a problem for rock climbers. Incorporating shoulder and wrist injuries into your strength training program can help reduce the risk of injury.

    Fingerboards
    Fingerboards are equipped with various grips and are designed to be grasped with the feet not touching the ground for brief periods at high-intensity. A 4-week fingerboard training regimen can increase your climbers’ grip strength and endurance, particularly among highly advanced competitive boulderers.

    Oslo Sport Trauma Research Centre Neuromuscular Training
    The Oslo Sport Trauma Research Centre has developed exercises that specifically help reduce the risk of injury to the shoulder and back. This resource includes videos and PDFs for download.

    Learn more about exercises to help prevent shoulder injuries.

    Learn more about exercises to help prevent back injuries.

    For more exercises, visit http://fittoplay.org/.

    Managing Concussion

    While a concussion is not the most common injury in rock climbing, it is important to be aware of concussion signs and symptoms and know what to do if concussion is suspected. The Concussion Awareness Training Tool (CATT) is an online resource for coaches and teachers to learn more about how to recognize, prevent, and manage a concussion. CATT also includes resources on how to respond to a potential concussion situation, as well as detailed Return to School and Return to Sport protocol. 

    Other Considerations (about this section)

    Education
    Teach proper climbing techniques, use of climbing gear, how to belay other climbers, safety tips, and how to fall properly. Ensure spotters are supervising climbers.

    AdventureSmart is a national program providing information to keep you safe while participating in outdoor recreational activities.

    Learn more about outdoor climbing safety.

    Equipment
    It is important to have the appropriate type of climbing shoes for your level of activity. Climbers report foot pain when climbing, often wearing shoes that are too tight.

    Ensure that you have climbing gear that is in good working condition. Helmets provide protection from falling rocks and the impact from a fall.

    Facilities
    The Ontario Physical Education Association (OPHEA) provides recommendations for safely installing temporary or portable climbing walls in secondary schools and commercial sites.

    Learn more about implementing a portable climbing installation in secondary schools.

    Sport-related Physicals
    Climbing is a physically demanding sport and some pre-existing conditions may increase the risk of injury. An annual sport-related physical evaluation ensuring fitness to participate can help to reduce risk of injury. KidsHealth provides information about what sports physicals are, why they may be appropriate and where you may go to get them.

    Learn more about Kids Health Sports Physicals.

  • Official & Administrator

    Talk to your organization, climbing club, or school about the prevention strategies below and how they might be incorporated into training and policies.

    Strength Training and Neuromuscular Training Program

    Chronic injuries, including to the shoulder and wrist, can be a problem for rock climbers. Incorporating shoulder and wrist injuries into your strength training program can help reduce the risk of injury.

    Fingerboards
    Fingerboards are equipped with various grips and are designed to be grasped with the feet not touching the ground for brief periods at high-intensity. A 4-week fingerboard training regimen can increase your climbers’ grip strength and endurance, particularly among highly advanced competitive boulderers.

    Oslo Sport Trauma Research Centre Neuromuscular Training
    The Oslo Sport Trauma Research Centre has developed exercises that specifically help reduce the risk of injury to the shoulder and back. This resource includes videos and PDFs for download.

    Learn more about exercises to help prevent shoulder injuries.

    Learn more about exercises to help prevent back injuries.

    For more exercises, visit http://fittoplay.org/.

    Managing Concussion

    While a concussion is not the most common injury in rock climbing, it is important to be aware of concussion signs and symptoms and know what to do if concussion is suspected. The Concussion Awareness Training Tool (CATT) is an online resource to learn more about how to recognize, prevent, and manage a concussion. CATT also includes resources on how to respond to a potential concussion situation, as well as detailed Return to School and Return to Sport protocol. 

    Other Considerations (about this section)

    Education
    Teach proper climbing techniques, use of climbing gear, how to belay other climbers, safety tips, and how to fall properly. Ensure spotters are supervising climbers.

    AdventureSmart is a national program providing information to keep you safe while participating in outdoor recreational activities.

    Learn more about outdoor climbing safety.

    Equipment
    It is important to have the appropriate type of climbing shoes for your level of activity. Climbers report foot pain when climbing, often wearing shoes that are too tight.

    Ensure that you have climbing gear that is in good working condition. Helmets provide protection from falling rocks and the impact from a fall.

    Sport-related Physicals
    Climbing is a physically demanding sport and some pre-existing conditions may increase the risk of injury. An annual sport-related physical evaluation ensuring fitness to participate can help to reduce risk of injury. KidsHealth provides information about what sports physicals are, why they may be appropriate and where you may go to get them.

    Learn more about Kids Health Sports Physicals.

  • Health Professional

    The role of health professionals in preventing injuries while climbing or bouldering has two main components:

    1. Providing ongoing education to climbers, parents, and teachers on effective injury prevention programs such as balance and resistance training; and
    2. Ensuring that injured participants are completely healed and fit-to-perform before returning to climbing to prevent re-injury or chronic injury.

    Strength Training and Neuromuscular Training Program

    Chronic injuries, including to the shoulder and wrist, can be a problem for rock climbers. Incorporating shoulder and wrist injuries into your strength training program can help reduce the risk of injury.

    Fingerboards
    Fingerboards are equipped with various grips and are designed to be grasped with the feet not touching the ground for brief periods at high-intensity. A 4-week fingerboard training regimen can increase climbers’ grip strength and endurance, particularly among highly advanced competitive boulderers.

    Oslo Sport Trauma Research Centre Neuromuscular Training
    The Oslo Sport Trauma Research Centre has developed exercises that specifically help reduce the risk of injury to the shoulder and back. This resource includes videos and PDFs for download.

    Learn more about exercises to help prevent shoulder injuries.

    Learn more about exercises to help prevent back injuries.

    For more exercises, visit http://fittoplay.org/.

    Managing Concussion

    While a concussion is not the most common injury in rock climbing, it is important to be aware of concussion signs and symptoms and know what to do if concussion is suspected. The Concussion Awareness Training Tool (CATT) is an online resource to learn more about how to recognize, prevent, and manage a concussion. CATT also includes resources on how to respond to a potential concussion situation, as well as detailed Return to School and Return to Sport protocol. 

    Other Considerations (about this section)

    Education
    Encourage climbers to learn proper climbing techniques, use of climbing gear, how to belay other climbers, safety tips, and how to fall properly. Spotters should be supervising climbers.

    AdventureSmart is a national program providing information to keep you safe while participating in outdoor recreational activities.

    Learn more about outdoor climbing safety.

    Equipment
    It is important to have the appropriate type of climbing shoes for your level of activity. Climbers report foot pain when climbing, often wearing shoes that are too tight.

    Ensure that you have climbing gear that is in good working condition. Helmets provide protection from falling rocks and the impact from a fall.

    Sport-related Physicals
    Climbing is a physically demanding sport and some pre-existing conditions may increase the risk of injury. An annual sport-related physical evaluation ensuring fitness to participate can help to reduce risk of injury. The American Academy of Pediatrics provides information about preparticipation physical evaluation.

    Learn more about Preparticipation Physical Evaluation.