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Pain in ring fingers, on and off

Original Post
Ryan Williams · · London (sort of) · Joined May 2009 · Points: 1,265

I've been climbing for years and never had any injuries other than some mild golfer's elbow which is remedied with pronation and supination exercises.

I recently had a 3 month period where I didn't climb much at all after about a year of nothing but climbing. I was in the best climbing shape of my life maybe and my fingers felt stronger than ever but over winter I had other things to do.

In the past month I've gotten back into climbing again, mostly indoors. This is the most time I've ever spent indoors. I started out just doing a lot of laps on easy stuff and trying to get my movement and endurance back. I bouldered some but mostly juggy stuff up to V3.

In the past two weeks I've been following more of a training program that gets me to the gym 2-4 times a week. I've been bouldering a lot, climbing harder routes, but always resting a day or two after a serious strength and/or anaerobic workout. I have been doing aerobic climbing workouts at the end of most of my sessions.

I have a pain in both ring fingers that comes and goes. It is worse on my right (dominant) hand. If I put my left thumb on the palm side of my right hand, at the joint where my ring finger meets my hand and press, it hurts. If I dynamically move for an open hand crimp, I get pain. Jugs and closed hand crimps (I hardly ever do these inside) don't hurt and pulling statically on edges doesn't hurt any more that usual. Sometime I have no pain at all when climbing (even on crimpy stuff) and I never have ANY pain after I climb.

The worst pain is on rest days. They are sore when I wake up and get better throughout the day. I think this could be in my head. My life revolves around climbing, I have big trips planned this year. I am paranoid that I am going to pull on an edge and my finger is going to explode.

Other than the mental problems the pain rarely affects my climbing and isn't enough to bother me even on rest days when they are sore. I am just afraid I am risking injury.

So do I need to take a few weeks off? Will that even help? Or am I just being paranoid about the normal pains of a gym/sport climber?

I will be in El Chorro all next week and don't plan to push things too hard as I know it won't be my only visit to the area. I was hoping to start some campus and fingerboard training when I get back (I've never really trained like this before) but I know those are the last things I should do if I'm having finger issues. Frustrating!


Larry S · · Easton, PA · Joined May 2010 · Points: 846

I had the same thing happen to me the last two winters when I would spend more time indoors bouldering. I'd get it more on the second knuckle of my ring fingers though. I didn't find a solution aside from a little time off and more time spent outdoors. For me, I think it was just the condensed indoor bouldering, it seems to be more stressful on my hands. I think indoor routes and most stuff outdoors tends to be more varied and less concentrated (more rest between climbs, not usually as overhung). This winter I focused more on endurance and technique on routes rather than bouldering and that usual pain I get didn't happen. Mine took over a month of time off to feel better each time. I've asked my regular doctor about it and he just considered it overuse, and as it's healed up, i never dug any deeper.

Ryan Williams · · London (sort of) · Joined May 2009 · Points: 1,265

Thanks Larry. That's what I figure, but it's just strange that they can hurt on some days and then feel completely fine while I'm climbing.

Monomaniac · · Morrison, CO · Joined Oct 2006 · Points: 17,320

It sounds to me like you have "tendonitis" (not really tendonitis since its not a tendon) of the ring finger A1 or A2 pully. This is pretty common, and IME not really a huge problem. Its usually the result of "overtraining" (actually, over-climbing in nearly all cases).

IME, plain rest doesn't seem to help much. "Rehab" is much more effective. My favorite way to rehab a finger injury is through progressive hangboard training. I think you would also be fine climbing, but you need to warm up thoroughly, avoid holds that cause pain, and, I suspect, drastically reduce the volume of climbing you are doing. It can be helpful to ice 20 minutes asap following your climbing session. I'm not sure on the best ice/heat protocol for rest days, so you might want to do some research on which way the pendulum of physical therapy "science" is currently swinging.

DannyUncanny · · Vancouver · Joined Aug 2010 · Points: 100

I'm guessing that it is a case of your muscles and technique being stronger than your tendons after not climbing. I had the same thing once. It was the pulley band. It only went away after a long time of not climbing. Picking up dumbells also strained it, so avoid that too if you go to the other gym. Massaging side to side and up and down and icing is always good.

Larry S · · Easton, PA · Joined May 2010 · Points: 846
Ryan Williams wrote:Thanks Larry. That's what I figure, but it's just strange that they can hurt on some days and then feel completely fine while I'm climbing.
I hear that. Mine would be fine climbing, no pain in gripping or general use, but if my finger loaded sideways, like clicking on the turn signal in my truck or brushing my hands against the side of me leg as I walked, I'd get little pangs of pain. Made me nervous to keep climbing for fear I was working up to something more damaging. The joint would also be tender if I squeezed it. I never did it when i had the problem, but i bet icing your hands in a bowl of cold water after climbing would help as the others have said.
Mike Anderson · · Colorado Springs, CO · Joined Nov 2004 · Points: 3,130

I think the term monomaniac is looking for is "tendonosis", or "tendovaginitis" (a real word, seriously). Those are inflamation of the tendon sheath.

The problem is almost certainly too much climbing volume because you've never climbed much in a gym. The intensity and frequency of climbing you can do in a gym is so much more than most folks get outdors. You can easily get a "days worth" of climbing at a gym in an hour or less, so most people overdo it. In general, you always want to be very careful about increasing volume, and when you are not, things like this happen. My recommendation is to reduce volume (start with your aerobic climbing at the end of each workout), and start icing, 10 minutes on each hand after every workout. You can do that every day, as much as 3 times a day. Icing is extremely effective. If you don't care about your liver, or want to detect subtle signals from your body, you can begin an Ibuprofen regimen that will easily mask your symptoms.

Finally, I would say you are not ready for the campus and fingerboard training. Since this is your first time "training" in a gym, you're going to benefit tremendously from that as it is. No need to add in more specific exercises at this point. If I were you I would hold off for a year before starting up on that stuff.

Gif Zafred · · Pittsburgh, PA · Joined Nov 2010 · Points: 5

Ryan, I have the exact same pain in my right ring finger as you describe. When I warm up, then climb in the gym, it doesn't hurt. A couple days after, on rest days, it hurts! Pressing on it hurts. Identical to your problem.

I think it was over training in the gym for me. I never took any time off from climbing a lot in the fall to this spring. I climbed in the gym all winter. For me, I think it was too much crimping.

I've found that taping really helps. I know that it will slow tendon strengthening, but it's better than blowing it out. So for now, I'm taping. Try that and see how it goes. Just a simple wrap around that part of your finger.

Also, you may want to take it easy on the strength training on small holds. Maybe do some anaerobic work (4x4's) on larger holds.

Luke Wakefield · · Prescott · Joined Jan 2009 · Points: 235
Monomaniac wrote:My favorite way to rehab a finger injury is through progressive hangboard training.
Mono, I would love to hear specifics if you have the time.
Monomaniac · · Morrison, CO · Joined Oct 2006 · Points: 17,320
Luke W. wrote: Mono, I would love to hear specifics if you have the time.
Check out this thread.
Brent Apgar · · Out of the Loop · Joined Oct 2007 · Points: 70

+1 for Mono's idea.
My 2cents, you've been training hard enough to reach your current physiological limit and are flirting with overuse and injury.
The solution is to back off on the intensity and frequency, though for how long is hard to say, you'll have to pay attention to the pain levels and what exacerbates the problem. As the pain clears up you'll be able to ramp up either the frequency and duration of your sessions or the intensity.

The awesome thing about a hang board workout is that it's much more controlled than just bouldering so you can quantify how much is too much.
For what it's worth, my professional opinion is that you've strained the tendon on the fourth finger, doesn't sound like a pulley... also stay away from the NSAID's, they'll be more harmful than helpful for you.
Back off and train through it.

Ryan Williams · · London (sort of) · Joined May 2009 · Points: 1,265

Thanks for all of the advice. It's going to be hard but I know I need to back off a bit. After my trip to Spain I'll probably just take a week off and then start back w/ two days a week and see how I feel. Definitely won't be doing any campus or finger board until I get pain free and probably won't mess with it until after my road trip (so next winter).

I don't take medicine unless I'm dying but I will try ice, especially when in El Chorro next week. I always had great experience with ice when I was an athlete. Hopefully I'll be able to predict my recovery rate as well as I could back then. I haven't looked through the hang-board thread yet but I will.

In all honesty I'd probably have my parents look at my hands if I were in the US 'cuz they are both PT's but I live across the fucking ocean so that's not an option.

Chag · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jun 2009 · Points: 45

Ryan, I could write almost the same story which began 2.5 years ago. Unfortunately, I'm still dealing with it and have been forced to stop climbing. I actually just saw an orthopedist about it today, who told me to see a physical therapist. Seems PTs are really the best for expertise on how to deal with this stuff.

After my initial injury way back then, I gave it a few weeks rest until I felt better, then started climbing again. Unfortunately that wasn't enough, and after a couple cycles of not quite enough rest it's developed into a chronic type of tendonitis called tenosynovitis (I think they call this tendovaginitis in Europe as someone else mentioned).

Now even after not climbing for four months it flares up with even light use.

Many people advise to give injuries like this rest until they feel fine, then wait that time again before doing much. I wish I had done that the first time.

I hope you can kick yours with relative ease.

dancesatmoonrise · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2011 · Points: 695

Ryan, it sounds like you have partial tears or strain/sprain of the A2 pulley. The ring finger is most commonly affected. Tenderness is usually at the proximal finger crease (where the finger meets the hand.)

I had this in the mid-90's when pushing thin 12's at Shelf. The cure is to support the A2 pulley. Tape won't do it - it deforms and is worthless. You need metal. I went to the hardware store and tried on every copper and brass fitting they had till I found one that fit over my ring finger perfectly, with one layer of tape underneath to snug it up. I cut it to fit from the base of the finger to the first joint (PIP joint,) about 14mm in my large hands, then sanded and polished it, and wore it faithfully on every climb for three months. Problem solved.

IF this is the problem you are experiencing, pulling down hard routes could potentially turn a minor tear into a full rupture. I'd advise caution.

Good luck with it.


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

I used to have a big problem with this type of pain, and so did a partner. The solution was to climb open hand in the gym. Its gym training anyway, so there is no reason to crimp with the thumb over the forefinger... yes you can pull harder, but slippery gym crimps seem to make the stresses on the tendons really high, and the thumb over the top increases that even more. Open hand only in the gym, and save the "over the top" crimps for when you are trying hard on something that actually matters (outside). Plus, open hand trains closed strength, but the reverse is not as true from my understanding.

Mike Anderson · · Colorado Springs, CO · Joined Nov 2004 · Points: 3,130
Nikolai Daiss-Fechner wrote:Plus, open hand trains closed strength, but the reverse is not as true from my understanding.
I believe this is an urban legend that is not true. I have seen this nonsense in print also, but I would love to know the origins of it. I can easily prove this claim is false simply by pointing out that the finger extensors are critical to closed crimping, yet they aren't trained by open-hand climbing. Not to mention the fact that nearly everything we know about isometric strength training contradicts the above statement.
Ryan Williams · · London (sort of) · Joined May 2009 · Points: 1,265

Thanks for all the advice. The last few posts were especially helpful.

I wanted to update the post, since this seems like a fairly common problem that will only become more common with more people climbing and more climbers training on harder routes.

So I went to Spain for 8 days in the middle of April (a week after this post started). I focused on routes that I could on-sight so that I was getting a variety of holds and not pulling over and over on the same crux move. I also focused on longer routes, which at my grade tend to be fairly juggy with maybe a few crimps or pinches at the crux. I had minimal pain during the trip and it didn't affect my climbing at all.

I got back to London on the 13th and didn't climb again until about the 20th. I went to the gym alone, got sucked into a boulder problem, and the pain immediately came back. I left the gym and swore off hard boulder problems for a while.

Since then, I haven't climbed much, and have only gone when I had a partner. I have probably only had 5 or 6 sessions in the last 6 weeks due to a week long visit from the family which preceded my wedding. Good timing I guess, as it turns out I really needed some time away from the gym.

So here we are 6 weeks later. My last gym session we climbed a lot, but trained mainly endurance which means we weren't on anything harder than 11a. Since my partner and I both have August goals of Grade IV and Grade V routes, we've decided to train mostly endurance, which is good for my fingers. My last session was completely pain free (accept for the very minor golfer's elbow that I've always had and know how to treat).

So to recap:

I think that I did probably have partial tears and/or sprains of the A2 ligament/pulley. 'danceatmoonerise' described my pain perfectly and this is the most common injury, so it's a pretty good guess.

By the end of December I had been on the road, climbing/working for about 4 months. Feeling very strong and injury free. In January and February, I climbed VERY little. Like one half day. Had other stuff to do.

March - started training in the gym for the first time in my life really. More bouldering than anything else, again, a first for me. Almost immediately started to get pain.

April - started to get away from crimpy stuff, but still went on a climbing trip where I climbed nearly every day for a week with no pain on juggy stuff, no redpointing. Trip was followed by a two week period where I climbed maybe once or twice, and re-aggravated the injuries.

May - a few sessions early in the month followed by two weeks of absolutely no climbing. Sessions were endurance oriented w/ no crimpy stuff.

June - plan is to do 5 weeks of training w/ my partner, but we will only be climbing 2 or 3 days a week and almost always focusing on quality movement on easier routes, and doing a lot of them for endurance training. We may have one day per week where we red-point a route, but we want it to be steep and juggy. Will take it easy, pay close attention to my warmups and any pain that shows up.

July - plan to be in the west, trad climbing, long routes below my physical limit, and cragging at crack areas. Hopefully not crimping much at all. But then again my US partner is having his own health issues so there is a possibility that I could end up back in Fayetteville working at a bar, and the New is NOT the place to be w/ finger problems. I guess I'll just wait and see...

I think that red-pointing routes and hard boulder problems is what caused these injuries and is what kept me from getting better faster. Add the giant increase in volume of climbing at the gym compared to what I usually do outdoors and boom, injuries. Short periods of time away from climbing combined with easier routes and no red-pointing or hard bouldering has allowed me to recover without having to "stop climbing." The next month will either confirm or deny that I really am recovered, so I'll update the post again.

THANKS FOR THE HELP! Hopefully this thread will help some others in the future as well.

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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