Power-Finger Injury

Q:

My left pinky extensor tendon fractured a piece of my distal phalanx while I was playing Ultimate Frisbee. After 10 weeks in a splint with my pinky immobilized with tape I have resumed climbing. I’m a 5.10 climber and the lack of a pinky isn’t a huge inconvenience, but I would like to start strengthening it so I don’t develop any inconsistencies or re-injure it.

— Maggie, via e-mail

A:

Oh, Maggie, I feel your pain. My worst finger injury was suffered trying to catch a Frisbee.

You’ve done your immobilization time, and your grasp of how to avoid injury at this point is commendable—most climbers have difficulty tempering enthusiasm with rehab strategy, especially with pinky injuries.

The little finger is often underestimated in terms of force contribution, so when you injure it, usually a pulley tear, it can be more than a little frustrating, as it inordinately messes with your climbing.

You are ripe for a pulley tear. After 10 weeks of immobilization, the connective tissues—ligaments and pulleys, primarily—will have atrophied to a point where your risk of injury is high.

I wouldn’t bother with tape, as it serves no purpose. The fracture should have healed well, and climbing does not place high levels of stress through that area anyway. Depending on the method, prophylactically taping your pinky to limit load on the pulleys is somewhere between pointless and counterproductive. In your instance it is entirely the latter since load is the only catalyst of strength. Measuring that load out to strengthen and not injure is the trick.

A good rule of thumb is to start 10 grades lower than where you left off. Add a grade or two each week depending on how it feels. Some controlled loading on a hangboard (feet on the ground) can also be a great way to start things safely.


This article appeared in Rock and Ice 233


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