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Broken wrist - or other serious injury- did you keep climbing?

Original Post
Adam Fix · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jun 2010 · Points: 5

Hi all, I'm new to the forums but love the site.

About 6 weeks ago I had a motorcycle accident which resulted in a broken & dislocated wrist (both radius and ulna suffered complex fractures). The ulna broke into 10 pieces and I now have a big wolverine-like device permanently in my forearm to hold it all together. I'm just now starting to work on getting my mobility back.

When I asked the surgeon about climbing, he said, "I won't tell you you can't ever do it- there are people with no legs running marathons." I thought that was a good way to put it in perspective, but by no means was it what I wanted to hear.

So far, things are going great with the recovery- I just can't find any info about people with similar injuries returning to climbing, and I'd really like some inspiration (or a reality check). Anybody gone through a similar trial, and if so, how did you respond?

Nikolai Daiss-Fechner · · Boulder, CO · Joined Jan 2005 · Points: 5

Don't skimp on the PT...

Chris treggE · · Madison, Beersconsin · Joined May 2007 · Points: 9,370

I did this in August 2005:

This is what happens when you are a dumbass while bouldering. August 2005.

Two days later I got this:

This is what happens when you find a good surgeon after being a dumbass while bouldering. December 2005.

After 7 weeks I got the cast off and a "you can do whatever you need to do" from the surgeon. I eased back into mobility, strength, then pushups and pullups, and about 2 months later started climbing again, and 2 months after that was at the same level I was before the whole sordid affair. The wrist was a little sore with climbing for about a year, but certainly nothing that kept me off the rock. I don't even notice it anymore.

So, no big deal. Start stretching ASAP and get that mobility back. Physical therapy is great. Do it.

cheifitj Cheifitz · · Boulder, CO · Joined Jun 2008 · Points: 65

I busted both arms climbing years back. The right arm was a simple break and was good to go after 6 weeks. The left arm was supposed to be surgically fixed, but with PT I got about 95% of my range of motion back and its still as strong as ever. No surgery for me, at least not yet...

PT is number one!


Chris Sheridan · · Boulder, CO · Joined Jan 2006 · Points: 1,625

One thing to keep in mind: one injury often brings about another. When I broke my ankle, I top-roped stuff in the gym with one foot and wound up with elbow tendon problems. When my friend hurt his finger and couldn't climb, he started running a lot and got stress fractures in his foot.

Its hard not to over do it with the things you can do, when you bummed about the things you can't do.

Jason Lantz · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Sep 2008 · Points: 170

A couple of thoughts on the subject. but, i think my inclination would be to heal the bone and thus any mechanical impediment. There are just somethings that cannot be fixed by immediate mobilization.

Awhile back I came down from 20' after a big dyno. It was a fall that didn't feel to bad and had taken before, but that time i came down on my toes and was unable to collapse my legs to blow off steam. shattered my left talar dome, with a few avulsion fracture that resulted in chunks of bone being ripped out by the muscle. The doctor told me the procedure with plates and screws. I opted not to have the surgery. Years down the line i don't regret it either. Many of my friend that have gone through certain surgeries were not impressed with the results. Shoulders seem to be the surgical exception.

But, if you have the obsessive compulsive training behavior of a climber the PT should be fun....

You may want to look two places for information:

First, look at Gunks pioneer Dr. Hans Krouse. He was JFK's sports med physician and pioneered immeadiate moblization theories.

Second, A book One Move to Many by Dr. Volker Schoffel and i believe our own Sam Lightner Jr. This book has a lot on overuse injuries, but it gives you a sense of the mechanics behind the motion.

Good luck man....

Langlois · · NYC · Joined Jul 2008 · Points: 355

I tore a ligament in my right wrist and took two weeks off. Then taped the @#$% out of it and started climbing again. One month later I ruptured 2 tendons in my right ring finger. Needless to say my advice is to let everything heal completely before climbing hard again. Chris those Xrays are nuts. Someday you'll have to put on a clinic on how to climb so hard after serious injury.

To the op: Good luck on the rest of your recovery- I've climbed the hardest in my life post injury and so have others who have already posted here. Stick with it!

Chris treggE · · Madison, Beersconsin · Joined May 2007 · Points: 9,370

Quote Langlois: "Chris those Xrays are nuts. Someday you'll have to put on a clinic on how to climb so hard after serious injury."

Haha! I think the titanium plate gives me extra powers. But really, saying I climb hard is an overstatement Ryan, but thanks.

Regarding whether to have surgery or not as mentioned by another poster above: it really depends on the injury. I went to the ER right after breaking my wrist and was treated and casted by a Russian doc. He said I should have a surgery to put in a plate, but it would be up to the orthopedics guy I had follow up with. I said I would prefer not to have a surgery, and he replied something like this (imagine a thick Russian accent), "That's your choice. In Russia, you would not get surgery, you would be casted for 3-4 months and it might not heal right, then you would have a lifetime of pain and disability, I have seen many times. I suggest you have surgery, since that gives you best chance of perfect function." Hard to argue with that point of view. I guess the plate in my wrist is not load-bearing, but the purpose is to hold the bones in perfect position while they heal. Only downside is potential for infection down the line. I've had injuries that I've been offered surgery and declined (A2 rupture) but I only declined after doing my own research.

I think a broken wrist is a no-brainer, unless it's a simple ulnar avulsion fracture. I don't think you need to have those repaired, just immobilized for a while (mine was also broken but not repaired like the radius fracture).

Adam Fix · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jun 2010 · Points: 5

Here's my x-ray:

4 weeks after surgery

Thanks for all the advice and first-hand accounts - especially Chris, since our injuries are the most similar. Pretty encouraging stuff.

I definitely have climber's OCD about OT/PT- I added 20% to my range of motion in each finger in the first week alone (now on week 2).

Kurt Burt · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2009 · Points: 95

Nothing will keep you down if you stay motivated. In one shot i broke L1,L2,L3 vert in back, pelvic bone in 3 spots, tailbone, and both feet. ICU for 3 weeks, 2 rods and many screws later I still climb, guide, ski, hike, dive, and run. Just lots of PT and when the pain starts don't numb it with drugs, learn to love it and push harder. I got off my drugs 5 weeks post accident and 6 years later never touched them again. Some days my back is bad and it hurts to walk, I suck it up and go for a run and by the time I get home i feel so much better. Good luck

Kurt "Burt" Arend

zFoy Foy · · Asheville, NC · Joined Oct 2009 · Points: 10

For what it's worth, I have an identical XR from about 10 years ago - big plate in the radius from a fracture into the joint. I found climbing (after an appropriate amount of time, say about 6 months of good PT) to be pretty therapeutic actually. Stretching out those ligaments and breaking up that scar tissue is what PT is gonna work on anyway. I'd say keep climbing hard.

Chris Weber · · Boulder, CO · Joined Oct 2003 · Points: 15

I'll add mine to the list--I smashed my wrist from a fall (I decked from approx 40 ft)--Doc said my hand/wrist bones "looked like cornflakes"-- +cracked L1 + cracked sacrum, back in June 07. Started climbing again May-ish 08 and slowly have worked my way back to climbing as hard as I was before. Still love it. Ditto on the PT--be religious.

KathyS · · Poughkeepsie, NY · Joined Nov 2007 · Points: 125

I did this to my wrist in a bike crash before I ever thought about climbing:

Long story, but I eventually ended up with a T-plate and 8 screws, similar to the others already posted, and a tendon transfer to replace an extensor that was severed. It was a few years afterward that I started climbing, and I have other body parts with fewer excuses that bother me more.

Heal well!

Mark Wyss · · Denver, CO · Joined Jan 2001 · Points: 255

Clyde Soles, Climbing Traing for Peak Performance Vol. 2 is pretty good. And while your on the shelf, and if you like reading, check out Kiss or Kill by Mark Twight. Remember, BE PATIENT! Hope you get better soon.

Mike Carrington · · Centenntial · Joined Feb 2006 · Points: 2,765

I ripped my left foot completly off my leg in a 15 foot fall. Then about 6 years later broke my femur in 28 places in a motorcycle accident. I am climbing harder now than I ever have. I do think a lot more about safety though!

Left foot, compound fracture dislocation.

Right femur fracture, 15 inch plate and 14 screws.

CDB · · CO · Joined Jun 2005 · Points: 0

I will echo what every other person has said here so far, do the PT. PT is the most beneficial thing for an injury like yours. Take it slow and ease your way back into climbing.

The x-ray photos everyone has are pretty cool. I have always wanted to track all mine down from injuries I've acquired over the years and have them framed and hung up as works of art.

Broken femur in 28 places!!!! You are my hero.

Jim Gloeckler · · Denver, Colo. · Joined Jul 2004 · Points: 25

After severing all tendons and median nerves in both wrists which resulted in loss of feeling in index and middle fingers and half of ring fingers and about 60% of pinch strength on both hands, I had a doctor tell me that I'll never climb again. After about a year I started back on the rock doing mostly beginner climbs. Now I'm climbing 5.9's and some easy 5.10's mostly indoors but sometimes outside. It's my age and overall lack of bouldering that has kept me from reaching my limit for me now, but at least I've proven the doc's wrong.

Moral: If you are into climbing, there is nothing that will stop you except lack of effort.

Do all of the therapy, and then get after it!

Shane Zentner · · Colorado · Joined Nov 2001 · Points: 205

Good to know! I currently have 15 screws in my forearm. 

Downtownt Kay · · Everett, WA · Joined Mar 2015 · Points: 110

this thread is pretty inspiring with lots of stories of people coming back from their injuries.

neils · · Unknown Hometown · Joined May 2016 · Points: 20

this is a good thread - i was recently injured climbing.  dislocated shoulder, fracture to humerus, hill sachs legion in humerus, possible tear in ankle.  may need surgery in one or the other, neither or both.  this is the first real injury ive ever had, climbing aside.  i hope to be back on the rock in 6-8 months and intend to follow the doc and pt religiously.  its great to see others have had more severe injuries and have recovered well

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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