Shoulder Pain

I’ve never had pain while climbing or pulling down, but it hurts when I raise my arm to the side above shoulder level with my palm turned up, and I get some pain with internal rotation exercises. I reckoned it was no big deal at first and kept climbing for weeks, until one day following a strenuous session I got a very sharp pain in my shoulder while resting after a boulder problem. Then I couldn’t raise my arm over my head for a few days.

By Rock and Ice | May 28th, 2015

I’ve been climbing for a year and a half and am leading up to 5.11a. Last winter I started using a hangboard for hangs, pull ups and working toward front levers. I’ve never had pain while climbing or pulling down, but it hurts when I raise my arm to the side above shoulder level with my palm turned up, and I get some pain with internal rotation exercises. A physical therapist and an orthopedic both thought I had no real injuries. I reckoned it was no big deal at first and kept climbing for weeks, until one day following a strenuous session I got a very sharp pain in my shoulder while resting after a boulder problem. Then I couldn’t raise my arm over my head for a few days. Do I need to wait until the pain is gone to climb? Or should I try to ease back into it after a week or two?

PF, Rock And Ice Forum

Timing is a major determinant of success when trying to manage injuries. Yours is a little off.

I dare say you didn’t see the PT or the ortho when you couldn’t lift your arm, but rather when there was minor discomfort. This makes diagnosis more difficult. I often tell patients to get out there and piss the injury off so that I have something to look at. History alone, as in mechanism of injury and pain pattern, will often only get you so far down the diagnostic highway.

At one and half years old your climbing life is but a fledgling and, like all fledglings, ignorance is bliss. You, however, seem to be arriving a little quicker than most in that you’re sensitive to the dangers that abound. Tissues do break, elbows are not invincible, shoulders are no longer just the joints that get your hands to the goodies on the top shelf.

I would say you have a healthy sense of alarm, although you are not sure what to do with it. Most avid climbers, amateur or professional, will tell you that the trick to enjoying the sport and improving is not so much about avoiding injuries—that is nigh impossible—but managing them such that they recover. Sometimes that means outright rest. Kick back, enjoy the finer pleasures in life. Leer at your hottie, discreetly throw golf balls onto the local 18th green and watch the anarchy unfold, or take some kids climbing.

Most of the time, though, you can do something. Be intuitive. A little sub-max experimentation will go a long way toward letting you know what you can and can’t do. The key word here is “sub-max!”

As a fledgling climber, training for front levers is not the best way for you to improve and, unless you have a long history of training upper-body power, I’d say it is just behind robbing the mafia in terms of asking for an injury. Please read the last 20 issues of Training in Rock and Ice. If you still want to train front levers, it is probably because you didn’t pay for the magazines. I suggest getting a coach, since people generally only listen when they pay for the advice.

I would go back to climbing now if you’ve been able to lift your arm for the last week without too much pain. Chances are you will not be world champion anyway and, given that, there’s no hurry—or reason to train front levers. Go slow.

 

This article was published in Rock and Ice 222 (November 2014).

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