by Carmelo De Leon, DPT, USAW
For rock climbers, the hands are one of the most common areas of injury, especially pulley ruptures in the fingers. Depending on the severity of the rupture, some immobilization time may be required (~10-14 days), and return to any sort of climbing-related activities can take up to 8 weeks. However, this doesn’t mean the time between immobilization and returning to climbing should be spent resting. Tissue strength and capacity must be rebuilt. Here, we will focus on the finger tendon pulleys that are frequently injured and how taping can provide support as you gradually return to climbing.
First, let’s look at the anatomy. The job of the pulleys is to keep the tendons in line with the bones as the muscles in the forearm curl the fingers. The injury occurs when the force applied to the pulleys is greater than what they can bear. When a pulley ruptures, the tendon is no longer running along the bones, which results in a bowstringing effect.
The A2 pulley becomes the most common rupture site because it takes the greatest amount of stress in the closed-crimp position. Although this position feels more stable, force is now applied on a structure that can’t be controlled like a muscle. Sometimes, however, the closed-crimp position may be unavoidable if it’s the only way to get passed the crux (the most challenging point.)
In the following part of this series, we’ll demonstrate some exercises that will help make the tissues of the hand and fingers more resilient, but first, here’s a taping method that can provide some level of support. It won’t replace a torn pulley, but it can supply partial reinforcement of the pulley to give a small edge to finish a problem.
Stay tuned for more information on supporting the hands and fingers and exercises designed to strengthen these areas.