Back Pain in Rock Climbers

Hey climbers! As a PT, I know the importance of stability and mobility to avoid back pain when you're crushing it on the rock. We see quite a few climbers for back issues and many of these can either be avoided or respond well to some self treatment.

You've got to have a solid core to move effectively and stay stable while assessing your next move.

A poor core can also partner with a lack of balance while climbing. What?  balance? …yes! Crazy to think about but balance…or lack of "proprioception" - knowing or not knowing where your body is in space or in relation to a solid surface, is crucial.   So if you can’t see your foot in a hold and you have to reach up with your opposite hand to find another hold - your brain has to tell the rest of your body where your foot is.  If this is lacking, every joint and muscle in your body will start working overtime to keep you stable. If engagement of your core muscles is lacking, this can be difficulty on the body and it will find stability in your joints. This is typically where your body starts to complain.

Posture can be a big issue in back pain.

 Sometimes due to climbing posture, we can have super tight hip flexors and low back muscles limiting engagement of our core and our glutes!   This is muscle imbalance in a big way.   We can lighten the overworked muscles by engaging the other ones to help.  OR we can lack in the “power” of the muscles.   Remember the reason for plyometric exercises? (see our last blog) We need muscles to engage at the right time. It doesn’t matter how strong that muscle fiber is if we can’t engage it when we need to.

The best exercises for preventing back pain among rock climbers are those that focus on improving stability, mobility, balance, muscle control, and reaction time. Here are some of the best exercises:

  1. Planks: Planks are a great exercise for improving core stability, which is essential for effective movement on the rock. Start with holding a plank for 30-60 seconds and gradually increase the time as you get stronger.
  2. Bridges: Bridges are a great exercise for improving glute and core strength, which can help improve muscle control and balance. Lie on your back with your knees bent, lift your hips up, and squeeze your glutes at the top.
  3. Single-leg stance: Single-leg stance exercises are great for improving balance and proprioception, which are crucial for avoiding back pain while climbing. Stand on one leg and maintain your balance for 30 seconds to a minute before switching to the other leg.
  4. Foam pad exercises: Foam pad exercises are great for improving balance and proprioception, which are essential for effective movement on the rock. Stand on a foam pad and perform exercises like squats and lunges to challenge your balance and improve your proprioception.
  5. Plyometric exercises: Plyometric exercises are great for improving muscle reaction time, which can help you move more effectively on the rock. Exercises like box jumps and jump squats can help you develop explosive power and quick reaction time.
And don't forget about your posture and equipment! Keep those glutes engaged, maintain good posture, and use the right gear to prevent strain on your back. Keep climbing strong, my friends! 
Check out our YouTube channel for specific instruction and technique for these exercises.   Please consider following us as we start to get this content out to everyone!  (slowly but surely).

If you have questions, please shoot them our way!  We love to prevent injuries FIRST instead of treating them.   If you do have a nagging issue going on, please reach out and schedule a quick free consult with us here:

Until our next blog entry….

Charlotte - Outdoor Enthusiast & Physical Therapist

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