Overcoming Injury: A Psychological Perspective

There are many ways we can injure ourselves that will affect our ability to climb over the years i have sprained ankles, torn tendons and pulleys, strained shoulders, prolapsed discs as well as a few other random injuries. All have had an effect on my climb to a greater or lesser extent. Some were caused by climbing other weren’t, whatever the cause the main issue for any climber is getting back to climbing and then back to their previous ‘match fitness’. One thing that I would say is that eventually you’ll get there, although the road might be a rocky one.

Having accepted that you are injured the first thing you need to do is rationalise how it is going to affect you as a person. In simple terms think of it as listing how it might affect your climbing and your life, by listing all of the things you did before the injury that might be harder or even impossible in your current situation. Then list all the things you would usually do that won’t be affected or you could still do after the injury. If your lists are too big then consider consolidating it by choosing the ten most important factors in you life both climbing and non-climbing that the injury has effected.

For each activity rate out of 10, where you feel you are now, where 10 is the level of activity/fitness/strength you had before the injury. If its going to be a long recovery then repeating this process every week/fortnight/month will let you see how much you have recovered, even if it is a small amount. Often sport scientists will give this a graphical representation by drawing pie type chart and filling in each week the progress towards full fitness.

Have established you base line fitness during the injury period then there are several things you can do to work back up to fitness. As from a sport psychologist point of view one of the key things is to maintain a positive outlook, and use some psychological tools to aid you in this. In a recent study of imagery use in the recovery of an elite gymnast by Nicky Callow it showed how the athlete along with there sport psychologist used imagery to aid the recovery process, by progressively changing the focus of the imagery.

If your injury is acute then you might want to consider imagining the part of your body that is injured having lots of blood running through the vein, capillaries and arteries, imagining it warming up, and as you feel the warmth and blood flowing through the injury start to imagine your body starting to heal the injury, visualise it at a cellular level. You want to practice this type of visualising the body repairing the injury site until you can start to use it to a limited level, like all imagery use it for around 15 minutes a day. At the same time as this also consider doing very light work that exercises the area as much as possible, again all your really trying to do is promote blood follow, so even gentle massage and stretching will help, as will general CV work to get the heart pumping the blood.

Once you feel you can that the injury is getting to the stage that you can climb all be it extremely cautiously, then change the imagery to imaging the weakness getting stronger and stronger, along with visualising yourself climbing again. At the same time consider that you can also start to climb again, but very gently. I think there are two ways to go about this, one is very easy routes, which although requires little strength can often lead to you being committed to a hard move that might cause you to reinjure yourself if you are lead climbing. So either be very cautious or only top rope routes so you can lower off at anytime. The alternative is bouldering, as you can let go at any moment should the climbing prove too hard (unless it is a bad back, or lower limb injury your suffering from then consider the roped climbing options).

The final stage of recovery the imagery should be changed to visualising yourself climbing, but adding the seeing yourself climbing confidently to help bolster your confidence ready for when you start to climb at you previous level. Also make the imagery as real as possible by imagining yourself climbing real route from bottom to top. Accompany this with noting down mentally how strong the injured area feels, your body is a great feedback mechanism, if after a training session it hurts rest it for an extra day or so. Remember that a softly softly approach is key, as even after you think you have recovered, the injured area will still be weak for weeks if not months

Often staying away from certain types of activities will also stop reinjury, be it crimpy holds, bouldering, hard shouldery moves. Whatever your injury is consider identifying how you caused the injury, and how you can avoid reinjury. If the injury does prevent you from climbing then consider that there are other form of activities that will help you keep up a level of fitness. In the past I have join a JJB gym, where I could go and do some CV work, Light weights, stretch, swim and even do the odd Yoga session. Whilst it wasn’t climbing it still got me out of the house and doing something constructive towards my rehabilitation.

As climbers you could also take up hill walking, scrambling, mountain biking, surfing or any form of activity that got you into the great outdoor. As whilst it might not be climbing getting yourself out and active will help keep the injury blues away.

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