Rock climber who can't open the fridge door without wrist pain!

by Margaret
(Austin, TX)

Hi Joshua,

I'm 21 and have been rock climbing for about a year now, mostly indoors. About five months ago I started having pain in my wrists when I was climbing: it was a sharp pain that would come when I was squeezing a hold really tightly and/or pulling down, putting a lot of strain on one wrist.

The pain seemed to be within my wrists or maybe on the underside; it didn't seem to be on the top of them. It was sharp and went away as soon as I let go of the hold. This problem mostly occurred when I was bouldering as opposed to rope climbing (I don't know how much you know about rock climbing, but bouldering tends to require a lot more strength and strain the body more, since the routes are very short and tough).

Since the pain was only there intermittently when climbing and didn't follow me home, I (of course) ignored it and kept climbing until about a month ago. I didn't climb too often--three times a week max, with a couple of stints where I took two or three weeks off.

A month ago, though, the pain had started coming often enough that it was really interfering with my climbing, so I asked my team captain about it. He told me to lay off the climbing for a while, and recommended that I do some particular stretches.

I had also bought this ball (soft version) to work on my hand/wrist/forearm strength and have been using it occasionally; it doesn't seem to cause pain.

Here's the part that makes me sad: UNTIL I emailed my captain and started doing these stretches to try to take action, my wrist only hurt when I was climbing. I must have overdone the stretches, though, or else it's a very bizarre coincidence that after I contacted him and started trying to stretch out, my wrist pain got MUCH worse.

It is mostly in my right wrist, since that's my dominant hand, but both wrists have issues. I couldn't pull open doors without pain, and I started having pain up the inside of my forearm sometimes, even when I wasn't doing anything.

When I bent my right wrist forward, the back of it would be very painful. My wrists were also getting worse when I was typing.

So after that rapid decline, I stopped stretching and tried my best just to leave my wrists alone.

I couldn't do it 100%, since I was traveling and had to carry heavy bags. I would also try certain activities briefly that made my wrist really hurt (fishing, for example--spent about 1 minute trying to haul in a fish in excruciating pain; had to stop).

However, I've tried to avoid typing and wrist-strenuous activities for the past few weeks. Until a few days ago, the pain subsided to the point where I almost forgot about it, but yesterday I was riding my bike and even the slight amount of pulling I did on the handlebars was too much, and now my wrist hurts again.

I'm going back to school tomorrow, so I'll have to be typing and carrying boxes and would love to be climbing, but I can tell that my wrist will flare up immediately! If you have any advice, I would GREATLY appreciate it--I don't know what I'll do if I can't keep climbing!

Thank you so much,


Joshua Answers:

Hi Margaret.

1. Sounds like not being able to climb is the least of your worries, if you can't type without pain.

2. You don't need stretching or strengthening. Your muscles are already super strong. But they're TOO TIGHT and the connective tissue is TOO TIGHT and now you're in an acute Pain Causing Dynamic.

Which is simple. Things get tight, they get tighter, they get irritated. Repeat.

3. You were too tight and irritated. Then you 'stretched', which means you pulled a too tight, panicked muscle apart. The nervous system freaked out, and turn up the dial on the defensive response (more tightness, more pain).

4. As you've experienced, Rest MAY help pain go away, but it doesn't fix anything, not even a little bit.

The Tendonitis dynamic is a one way street unless you do something to actually turn the car around and make it go the other way. (Sorry, I sometimes make up bad analogies as I go along....)

5. Do you have Wrist Tendonitis? Technically.

But what does that mean, exactly?

Are you injured? No.

Is your mechanical structures HIGHLY IRRITABLE and packed full of Pain Enhancing Chemical from the Process of Inflammation that is currently on high alert?


6. Tight muscles whose tendons cross the joints COMPRESS the joint. So your wrist joint is compressed 24/7. So it's grinding on itself with every movement. Which sends pain and danger signals to your brain. Which protects you with pain and tightness.

So I could say more about all of the above, but let's start with that.

More questions, more answers.

Please reply using the comment link below. Do not submit a new submission to answer/reply, it's too hard for me to find where it's supposed to go.

And, comments have a 3,000 character limit so you may have to comment twice.

Joshua Tucker, B.A., C.M.T.
The Tendonitis Expert

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Sep 28, 2011
Next steps?
by: Margaret

Hi Joshua,

Thank you so much for answering! I'm really hoping to be able to take some concrete steps towards recovery, especially because I don't have insurance right now and thus won't be able to see a doctor for another month at least.

About a month ago, I did a few days' worth of ice dipping of my wrists (per what you said on the site). It took care of what remained of the day-to-day pain, and seemed to reduce the inflammation on the inner thumb side of my wrist. (I wasn't able to dip my whole forearm in the ice water, just up to right above the wrists, but nonetheless it seemed helpful.)

I also tried to massage the tendons in the interior part of my forearm--I noticed that they felt REALLY tight, especially in my right arm--but I couldn't find any hotspots, so the massage just made my wrists hurt again, but in a way that didn't feel productive.

About two weeks ago, I gingerly got back on the climbing wall and did a couple of very, very easy routes. No pain afterwards! I was ecstatic. So last week I went and did a few more easy routes--perhaps more than I should have, but really barely anything at all--and the next day my wrists were distinctly painful again. Since then I've stayed off the wall.

Final note: just today I've been noticing that the tendons in my right arm, running through the bottom of my wrist, are really painfully tight. The center of the palm of my hand is even a little painful. It seems to get worse with typing (but, unfortunately, I'm in school and can't avoid that). I'll ice tomorrow, and I've been taking magnesium supplements since yesterday in an effort to relax my muscles. What else would you recommend doing to relax this wrist??

Thank you so much, Joshua,


Joshua Comments:

Hi Margaret.

All in all I suggest that you get my Reversing Wrist Tendonitis ebook. It's got a complete plan and explanation.

In short though, I'd say to keep ice dipping.

And don't massage the tendons. Massage the muscles connected to the tendons.

The tendons are tight because the muscles are PULLING on them.

Also, it's not just about making pain go away. That's great and all, but i'm not worried about pain, I'm worried about muscles and connective tissue being TOO TIGHT.

If you want to be a climber again, you need to master softening up your forearms (and anywhere else that needs it).

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