You climb, I think
May 4, 2016 2:22 PM   Subscribe

Are there any concerns I should have about my daughter doing a lot of rock climbing in terms of possible impacts on her physical development and growth?

My soon-to-be 8-year-old daughter loves indoor rock climbing and has been doing it a lot. I like the sport - it's a lot of fun, great for building arm and hand strength, and also has a good mental component to it. Plus I really like the staff and climbers who we interact at rock climbing gyms. So I've been very supportive of her interest in this activity.

I consider it to be quite safe (again please note that I'm just talking about indoor rock climbing, not outdoor), and my concern is not about acute injuries, although I do realize such things can potentially happen. Rather, my concern is that if she sticks with this on a somewhat intensive basis for a long time, are there any potential negative impacts I'm not aware of on her development and growth, such as her bones or joints or tendons? Could she be at risk of developing any chronic injuries from climbing a lot (as opposed to falling or some other type of acute injury) that might plague her later?

I know that for some sports there are guidelines about the maximum amount or type of activity children should do. For example, children shouldn't throw too many fast balls and or any/many curve balls lest they damage their developing arms. I don't know whether there are any such guidelines for indoor rock climbing.
posted by Dansaman to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
My ex was a serious climber as a kid, and had some terrifying stories about ill-advised bouldering but no nagging injuries, although this article suggests that finger injuries are what to pay the most attention to. This study abstract also talks a little bit about making sure her shoes aren't too small, to prevent foot problems.

I was a jock from about age 6 onward, and I can tell you that now at 35 I have a whole bunch of minor little problems from sports injuries (touchy rotator cuff, wobbly ankle, etc.) What you want to look for are minor injuries/sorenesses that *keep reoccurring* - are her wrists sore once a month? Does she blow off your concern over a limp with "Oh, my foot just does that sometimes"? That'd be the point where I'd make sure she has access to a physical therapist to keep things balanced, properly healed, etc. Learning the difference between "I'm sore because I worked out, it means I'm getting stronger" and "I'm sore because I hurt myself, I need to take care of it and rest" is the #1 thing she needs to learn - and probably will, although enthusiasm and adolescent obliviousness towards consequences means you get to be the backstop for it.
posted by restless_nomad at 2:37 PM on May 4, 2016 [6 favorites]

What's "a lot"? multiple hours several days a week?

The UIAA's take on this is to be careful about fingers, especially during growth spurts:

Excessive crimp or campus board training is probably not a good idea unless she's being supervised. Even experienced adults suffer these injuries a lot, and they can be permanent. (Pulleys don't grow back, and surgeries are rare/risky)

But there are plenty of other skills that can be developed in the meantime. Especially the mental stuff. I wish I had been climbing regularly as a kid!
[Not a medical professional. I climb regularly, but not seriously]
posted by stobor at 2:58 PM on May 4, 2016 [2 favorites]

I'm definitely not an expert but I had a conversation about this with a youth climbing coach once. He basically said that as long as their technique is okay (esp. crimping correctly--there are some ways of crimping that are much more stressful on your tendons), simply climbing a lot wasn't so much of a concern--i mean, I'm sure there's a point at which it is for elite youth athletes, but it doesn't sound like that's what you're talking about. However he said that given developmental concerns, he doesn't do training exercises with the kids that put a lot of stress on their fingers, like campus workouts where you don't use your feet or hangboard/fingerboard workouts where again you're not using your feet.

That said there are tendon injuries that all climbers should keep an eye out for no matter their age, so being aware of those would be a good thing because she may not recognize a twingey finger as something she should pay attention to.
posted by geegollygosh at 2:59 PM on May 4, 2016 [2 favorites]

Good coaching and technique matters. Like everyone else has said, crimping is stressful on your tendons and poor technique can cause some damage. I have several rock climbing friends, and climb myself, and at some point we've all suffered from a pulled finger tendon. That said, I played soccer as a kid from 5 until I was about 22 and I've got poorly healed injuries that still bother me way worse then any injury from climbing. Anyway, get her a good coach and she'll be great.
posted by Marinara at 3:25 PM on May 4, 2016 [3 favorites]

Good advice above. Climbing, esp in the gym is quite safe. Outdoor climbing is quite safe too if done properly. Don't veto outdoor climbing just because it's outside.

Also, things like tendon injuries take a long time to heal. Coming back too early is a bigger problem than getting injured.
posted by thenormshow at 4:50 PM on May 4, 2016

Many of the current climbing elite credit an early start in the sport (ie at the same sort of ages as your daughter) with why they are able to climb at a high level and not get injured. I think the conventional wisdom is that tendons take longer to strengthen than muscles do, and that people who get started early tend to avoid the acute tendon injuries that plague people who started later, got strong and pulled too hard!

If she focusses on climbing itself, and not training for climbing eg campus training, fingerboard dead hangs etc she will minimise the likelihood of premature injury or overuse. If you haven't come across it already, search out the Training Beta podcast by Neely Quinn. She interviews a bunch of top climbers and boulderers about their experiences and training (many of them women) and I think you would get a good sense of what worked and didn't work. Also, you might want to think about getting your daughter to look at training antagonist muscle groups with a theraband or bodyweight exercises (this is absolutely something that a coach could help her with, and something that Neely's podcast touches on quite a bit). Perhaps not now, but in a few years she could start to develop some imbalances between the pulling muscles and pushing luscles in the upper arm and shoulder which can lead to instability and injury later on. Nothing to stress about with an 8 year old I wouldn't have thought, but if it becomes her passion, then perhaps.

Oh, and one more thing: if she hasn't heard of young female climbers like Angie Scarth-Johnson and Ashima Shirashi then make sure she does! Young female climbers are arguably pushing the boundaries of the sport in a way that's never happened before, and it would be an amazing thing for a young girl to enter a sport where people just like her can aspire to being the very best.
posted by tim_in_oz at 6:37 PM on May 4, 2016 [5 favorites]

Just a note about the difference between bouldering and climbing. Bouldering is a lot more about power, so I would steer her towards top-rope climbing.
posted by falsedmitri at 7:16 PM on May 4, 2016

I can't imagine her physical development will be damaged by climbing. Avoiding any kind of serious "training" like the campus or hangboard until she's in her teens at least is probably a good idea. Fingers are the big concern as just about everyone above has said, but there's little to no science about what young climbers hands look like late in life. In general, acute injury is the real risk. Or rather, continuing to climb with an acute injury. If she can avoid climbing on that sprained wrist or achy ankle, she should be fine.

Climbing is the best, BTW, and climbing outside doubly so!
posted by that's candlepin at 1:04 PM on June 23, 2016

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