Finger injury part II: Should I see a Doctor?


Finger injury part II: Should I see a Doctor?

In the previous installment of my series on finger injuries, we dove into the circumstances leading up to my current finger injury. In this post, we’re covering what happened after the injury occurred. So when you do get an injury, what’s next? Can you still climb? How do you get better? The answers to all of these questions can be found at the other end of a consultation with a qualified professional. For my own injury, I consulted a specialist. In this post, we’ll discuss why I sought professional help, and how climbing-specific physicians are the best way to go for many injuries. So let’s start with the most obvious reason that climbers don’t get help with their injuries: money.

Are your shoes more valuable than your body?

If I had a dollar for every facebook post asking if someone else has ever dealt with *insert some horrible-sounding injury here* – I would be filthy rich. Injured, worried people are all over message boards seeking free advice – which is usually about as valuable as what they paid for it.

To those individuals, consider this: if you are concerned enough to ask strangers on the internet about healing your precious human instrument – I’d bet a lot of money that you’d feel really good about taking those concerns to a qualified professional.

While I appreciate that the climbing community is frugal and values their hard-earned dollars, I urge you, if your injury is chronic and it is affecting your climbing – go see someone about it.

To put this in perspective, your shoes cost $100 – $200. Your rope is a few hundred bucks too. These are important, but replaceable pieces of gear. You know what is an irreplaceable of gear? Your fingers. Your shoulders. Your elbows. You need your body to climb. Start valuing yourself more than the shoes you need resoled. If you need to, go see a doctor. A consultation with some of the best in the business is around $200. Get some help.


Personally, I am so glad I invested in getting professional help with my injury. Without it, I would have been totally lost. And the good news – if you’re on a high deductible health plan like I am, you can use the money you might have put in your health savings account to pay for your care! Pretty sweet!

If your frugal sensibilities feel attacked, let me advise you that I am coming from a place of refusal to see medical professionals for anything. I once let a friend’s dad give me head staples in his kitchen because I “was not about to pay for an urgent care visit”. So as a friendly neighborhood cheap ass myself – I am telling you that seeing a medical professional about my finger was totally worth it. My recovery is going to be faster and more peaceful than it would have been otherwise.

But who can you go to if you have an injury that needs specific attention? And why do you need to see a climbing specialist over a regular physician anyway? Let’s start with a story.

Climbing Injury Specialists

I have a climber friend who is in physical therapy school. She worked an internship with an individual who had been practicing for over a decade. He was an experienced therapist and managed the whole clinic.

However, with all that experience he didn’t know shit about climbing. Want to know what he said when my friend showed him a hangboard? “that’s a terrible idea, no one should ever use that.”

Compare that sentiment to my finger rehab protocol which is done almost entirely on a hangboard.

Most medical professionals are not familiar or trained in working with athletes who can put exceptional amounts of load on their finger joints. The average person can’t hang their bodyweight on a 30mm edge for even a few seconds – let alone with tens of pounds of additional load.

A medical professional unfamiliar with climbers may not fully understand what you need. There are always exceptions depending on the injury, the circumstances, etc. From personal experience, you will have an easier time and get better results from a medical professional who deeply understands climbers. Fortunately for you, many of the best ones do remote consultations. You can get specialized help from anywhere in the world! Here are two that I have personally worked with and would highly recommend.

Dr. Natasha Barnes
Dr. Tyler Nelson

Outside the Canon of Conventional Medicine

I am working with Dr. Nelson for my present injury. During our consultation we discussed the main differences between conventional and climbing-specific specialists. We also discussed the tenets of my rehab protocol. Here are some interesting points you may not be aware of regarding connective tissue injuries.

  • tendons and connective tissues need load to heal
  • extended resting does not demand loading of the damaged tissue, so taking time off may not actually heal your injury
  • you can climb through your injuries
  • you can keep your healthy tissue strong through injuries by loading it along with the damaged tissue
  • hangboards are excellent rehab tools (under the care of a trained professional)

    Most rehab professionals don’t know what a hangboard is. The canon of conventional medicine may not serve to get you back into climbing as quickly as possible.

When is it time to get help?

For me, if something does not resolve or show signs of improvement on its own in 7-10 days, I get professional help. In the case of my elbows, I reached out for help about one week into feeling pain. The injury resolved in about a month.

With my current finger injury, after about 10 days I sought help from Dr. Nelson. My only regret is that I didn’t get help sooner.

When it comes to injuries, if your gut is telling you to see someone about it – trust it. Though I am not a doctor, as a climber and a coach, these are the heuristics I operate on for myself and my athletes.

Let me know in the comments what the worst free advice you got from someone was…and there’s a lot out there!!

If you found this post helpful and you are ready to get stronger fingers yourself, then you are going to love my strength & fingers program: Force Over Time.

Force Over Time is a 12 week program combining strength training and hangboarding. This program can be done in addition to your climbing. That way, you can get stronger, without giving up your time to climb.

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