Editors Note: This issue, we present the second of three Training Tech Tips in conjunction with the nonprofit ProHealth Lab, in Park City, Utah. A Common Climber Injury
is tearing of the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and/or meniscus. One of the knees four major ligaments, the ACL is a connective-tissue cord about 8 or 9 mm at its narrowest; it connects the distal femur to the tibias top. The menisci are C-shaped, gasket-like pads at the perimeter of the knees two weightbearing compartments medial (inside) and lateral (outside); they absorb shock, lubricate/nourish, and expand load distribution.
Climbers stress the knees, especially when heel hooking, kneebarring, and highstepping, or taking bouldering falls in fact, a fall from five feet can tear an ACL just as easily as one from 20, especially onto an uneven surface. Like any other connective-tissue structure, the ACL typically benefits from healthy, repetitive use (read on), while a de-conditioned ACL is akin to leaving your rope in the sun for weeks. In fact, primate surgery has revealed that casting a limb for four weeks results in serious ACL weakness, from which it takes a year to recover!
So while surgeons all too often focus on reconstruction, its possible to prevent tears with proper nutrition, conditioning, and strength building. Here, some pointers before we move into specific exercises:
Knee parts and how they connect
While biking wont strengthen the ACL much, running on flat and slightly declining grades can. Also helpful is using a leg-press machine into near-terminal extension, as well as cross-country skiing, with its forward propulsion from the nearly fully extended knee. Avoid Pro-Inflmmatory Nutrition.
Junk food, soda, hamburgers, etc. can tip your biochemical balance toward chronic inflammation, which damages cells and connective tissue. By shirking on fruits, vegetables, fish, lean meats, and fresh, unprocessed foods, you deprive yourself of key tendon and ligament nutrients. Protect Your Meniscus.
Prevention of meniscal injuries requires first and foremost an intact ACL. Sports nutrition, including cartilage nutrients, can stimulate meniscal strength over time. In Asian and African societies, where squatting is a daily habit, the meniscus posterior part is often engaged healthily. In Western societies, since we rarely flex this zone the most frequently torn it can get soggy (the so-called grade 2 MRI signal), which often evolves to significant meniscal tearing. Thus, its important to fully mobilize your knee, including maximum flexion. For climbers, this means warming up, cross-training, cardio, strength training, maintaining a normal body-mass index, and full joint mobilization (including full-squatting activities like yoga). Learn to Land.
When falling while bouldering, our instinct is to straighten our legs but this extension makes the knees vulnerable. To absorb the shock, fall like a cat, with knees bent.