Need to know: the BMC Climbing Injury Symposium 2018 report

Posted by Daisy Peters on 14/11/2018

The latest climbing injury research and news from the presenters and professionals at the BMC Climbing Injury Symposium 2018. Find out what was discussed this year:

In previous years, the BMC Climbing Injury Symposium has set the bar high in terms of cutting edge medical content delivered by renowned presenters. This year did not disappoint! With the excitement surrounding climbing in the Olympics still lingering in the air, there was certainly a big focus on growth, development and training across the weekend. The delegates were made up of doctors, physiotherapists, osteopaths, hand therapists, students, parents and many more, all with a vested interest in climbing and injury prevention or rehabilitation.

“I attended all the talks, and the breadth of knowledge and expertise displayed by the presenters in one room was extraordinary. I was completely inspired.”  

Climbing injuries

Dr. Volker Schoffl, an orthopaedic surgeon and doctor to the German national climbing team, but also a keen climber himself, gave four separate presentations at different times over the weekend, covering injuries from the lower limbs to the upper extremities and throughout. He showed us clear statistics that the pulley injury is still the most common within climbers of all abilities. We saw evidence of this during Professor Waqar Bhatti’s illustrated talk on ultrasound imaging, where we were able to scan and be scanned in our hands and fingers to get a real picture of what was going on beneath the skin. As it turned out (unsurprisingly) there were quite a few injuries among us! Following on from this, Dr. Schoffl introduced the concept of “Newbie Syndrome” effecting inexperienced climbers, who are unaware of the potential for climbing injuries and do too much, too soon. He also discussed in some detail, the problems associated with the recent rise in popularity of bouldering, as a sport in its own right.


Dr Volker's statistics for injury distribution in climbers. Photo: Daisy Peters

Training for youths

Dr Isabelle Schoffl, who currently works in the Department of Paediatrics, and is the doctor for the German Youth Climbing team, gave a series of talks concentrating on the physiological problems effecting children and young climbers under the age of 18, with the emphasis on the dangers of such activities such as campus boarding, finger boarding and over-training which is supported by the BMC in this article.

READ: Should U18s use campus boards?

Given the significant increase in children being introduced to the sport at indoor walls, she emphasised the need for coaches and parents to monitor their activity closely and respond to the need to identify pain early to avoid long term consequences, such as the ever present issue of growth plate fractures, more information can be found on this in this article.

READ: Growth Plate Stress Fractures in Teenage Climbers

Her parting message was: “Remember that teenagers are not mini-adults, no matter how hard they climb!”

Eating and nutrition for climbing

Nutrition for climbing is equally important both to the recreational climber and elite Olympic athletes. Rebecca Dent gave a very interesting, in depth talk on the benefits of proper nutrition and warned of the increase in restrictive eating disorders, and how many climbers will find themselves in relative energy deficiency (RED), defined as a mismatch between an athlete’s energy intake and the energy needed for exercise. Her talk was supported later on in the day, by Dr. Isabelle Schoffl’s talk on anorexia athletica. This condition is often associated with top performing athlete’s in different disciplines, but most commonly seen in gravity defying sports such as climbing, where an athlete feels they have to be lighter to climb better. Success in performance can encourage the athlete to fluctuate weight unhealthily, and both Rebecca and Isabelle emphasised the importance of monitoring athletes and discouraging this practice. For more on this topic, read this UKC article discussing the struggles of young females and body weight issues.


An important message from Rebecca Dent's presentation.

Legs and hips

Also of great interest were the talks given separately by Uzo Ehiogu and Dr Christoph Lutter on injuries to the lower extremities, including the hips. Uzo Ehiogu, is physiotherapist and clinical director of a specialist clinic for climbers, he highlighted the importance of training the lower body, which is often ignored and forgotten in climbing training programmes. However, weight training in the form of squats can significantly reduce the risk of injury to the hips. Dr Christoph Lutter, is an orthopaedic surgeon and works closely with Dr Volker Schoffl, although he specialises in climbing related injuries to the upper extremities, he also explained about the increased use of the lower limb in modern climbing techniques, such as heel hooks, drop knees and big rock-overs, all of which place great stress on the musculoskeletal system.

Climbing shoulder injuries

Second in the list of areas most commonly injured by climbers, was the shoulder. Ellie Richardson specialises in shoulder injury prevention and rehabilitation. She was passionate about educating her clients during assessment, and “future proofing” her clients to ensure maximum performance with minimal setbacks. She introduced us to some specialised exercises for testing and then strengthening both the anterior and posterior rotator cuff.

Train SMART

Moving on from the physical, it can be said that all climbers of all abilities, recognise that a positive psychological approach to climbing is equally as important as the physical. Rebecca Williams, a consultant clinical psychologist, gave us a very interesting statistic that climbing injuries could be reduced by up to 50% with psychological prevention techniques. She discussed the negative implications of the “no pain, no gain” myth. In relation to this, Dr Gareth Jones a physiotherapist and expert in Sports and Exercise Medicine, talked about training SMART rather than training HARD, and that we must be aware of not only the external load that is applied but also the internal load, which he defined as our response physiologically and psychologically to the stimulus.

Saturday evening provided climbers and the like with two of their favourite subjects, plenty of food and plenty of talking. Including a fascinating talk by Andy Cave, mountain guide and author, who had us all gripped with his tales of exploration, adventure and injury! It wasn’t a late night; delegates were all tucked up by 10pm absorbing and resting, ready for another day of information on Sunday. The BMC Climbing Injury Symposium 2018 delivered above and beyond what was expected yet again, and I am very much looking forward to the next one!

Article written by Daisy Peters, a Sports Therapy and Injury Rehabiliton student, Climbers’ Club and BMC member, and long-term keen climber.


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