Many people wonder the same thing when they start rock climbing or bouldering: will it help their bad back or worsen it? We all experience back pain to some degree due to our jobs in the western world. As rock climbing can either hurt or strengthen your back, there is no simple answer as it can both cause and prevent back injury.
Are you able to get your back better by rock climbing? When rock climbing is practiced at least once a week for a minimum of an hour per session, it can help decrease levels of chronic low back pain and also rock climbing also activates the trunk muscles (three groups of muscles that move the vertebral column) in the body when the activity is practised at low intensity and in low volume. In the same study, non-high intensity or high volume conditions were not tested; therefore, this claim cannot be supported. As a result, rock climbing can cause back pain from a number of different causes:
- Bouldering causes the vertebrae in your spine to compress when you jump or fall off the wall and land on your feet
- When you don’t have a strong core, you may use your back, which isn’t ideal, or you may have imbalanced muscles
- Back injuries are caused in any and every sport due to accidents
- When you use incorrect technique, you can damage or injure your back
Many of the above bullet points can be countered by climbing down a wall rather than jumping, strengthening your core muscles, and using proper climbing technique.
We will examine the studies that show rock climbing helps with back pain, as well as how it can cause back pain.
Rock climbing studies have shown that it reduces back pain
Rock climbing may be beneficial to people with back pain, according to a few studies. As we go through these studies in this section, we will briefly summarize each of them and conclude with their results.
- Kim et. al studied how the trunk muscles of the body responded when climbing walls with 0°, 10°, and 20° angles. There are three groups of trunk muscles: those covering the thoracic and abdominal walls, as well as those moving the vertebral column. We recorded the activity of the trunk muscles for 7 seconds using an EMG. Twenty-four healthy individuals without climbing experience were involved in this study. In response to 10° of inclination, there were significant differences in trunk muscle activity. These groups of muscles were therefore activated by climbing.
- Another study conducted by the Medical University of Vienna investigated the impact of rock climbing on low back pain. To accomplish this, they divided 30 patients with chronic low back pain between ages 18 to 45 who had no climbing experience into two different groups. The first group was the climbing group and the second was a control group that received no treatment. Climbing at least once a week for an hour was required of the climbing group for 10 sessions over 8 weeks. The participants had a choice of 5 different climbing routes. Results showed that the participants in the climbing group had a significant reduction in disc protrusion, an improvement in VAS in a minimal finger-floor distance position, and a significant difference in time course using the Oswestry Disability Index between the two groups. People with chronic low back pain may find climbing an effective and low-cost treatment option.
What causes back pain when rock climbing?
There are many ways to cause back pain while rock climbing, most of which are easily avoidable if you take some time to reflect on your actions before you take them.
During bouldering, you may jump or fall off the wall
If you boulder, you’ve probably been told multiple times to descend the safest route after topping out or sending the climb. You need to do this to avoid acute or long-term injury. Unfortunately, the same thing can happen if you fall off a boulder. Accidental falls or purposeful jumps from a climb can lead to serious injury, especially to the spine. When you land on your feet after falling 10-15 feet above the ground, you compress the vertebrae in your spine. This may cause spinal problems over time. It is possible to minimize the risk, however.
It’s obvious that you should not jump when you’re sending a climb, but instead climb down the easiest graded route. Unfortunately, this is not always possible, especially if you are too tired after submitting the problem or lack an easy route to climb down the slope. When this happens, you will likely fall. In case you land on your feet or in other ways that may injure you, falling off accidentally also comes with complications. In light of these two reasons, learning how to fall correctly is beneficial.
Imbalanced muscles or a weak core
You may find it more difficult to climb safely if you have a weak core, and if your back isn’t strong enough, you’re more likely to use it in dangerous or unsafe ways. You engage your core especially when climbing on rooftops and overhangs. Core imbalances can also cause back pain. You might experience back pain if your core is stronger in one part than another and your muscles are imbalanced. When you have an imbalanced or weak core, training and activating it fully is the best course of action. Using an exercise ball while planking is one of the best ways to engage and balance the core. By adding an exercise ball to your planking routine, you are engaging your core to stop the ball from moving. You can do this by kneeling in front of an exercise ball and placing your forearms on top with your fingers interlaced. In a plank position, tighten your core and lift your knees off the floor. Squeeze your glutes and lower your shoulder blades. Hold this position for 30 seconds, then repeat 5 times.
A back injury caused by an accident or inadvertently using incorrect technique
Accidents can also lead to back injuries, and there isn’t much we can do about this except take the appropriate safety precautions. You can reduce your risk of injury by using correct technique when rock climbing. You should always keep an eye on your surroundings whether you are on the wall or not. Be sure you listen to your body if you’re already injured – maybe you shouldn’t try that dynamic move today that could cause more harm than good.
Using a Hangboard to Help with Back Pain
With just one simple exercise, you can relieve back ache and shoulder pain by using a hangboard or pullup bar. Hanging can relieve back pain by decompressing the vertebrae in the spinal column and relieve shoulder pain by releasing the acromion in your shoulder.
Hang on a pullup bar or hangboard, palms facing forward, shoulders parallel to the ground. Hold this position for at least 10 seconds at a time. By keeping your feet on the floor, you can also apply a partial hang to reduce the weight on your arms. You can do a maximum of 1 minute per round if you feel like you can do more than 10 seconds at a time. Hang for seven minutes per day and you should see improvement within around 2-3 months, however this obviously depends on how severe your injury is.
Having a portable pullup bar around the house for different exercises is always a good idea. Check out the top 10 fingerboard.
Stretching to help with back pain
Back pain can be reduced by stretching. Different types of stretching can be done. Let’s take a look at yoga. Moderate yoga practice can help reduce back pain and strengthen the spine and surrounding muscles. Yoga consists primarily of stretching exercises. These are some of the best yoga poses/exercises to help with back pain:
- Downward facing dog stretches the spine and lengthens it entirely
- The cat-cow position lengthens the entire spine and hips
- Supine twist – releases tension throughout the entire back
- Sphinx – stimulates sacral lumbar arch (lower back)
- Thread the Needle – loosens tight hamstrings and hips which contribute to low back pain
Frequently Asked Questions ( FAQs):
Is climbing bad for your back?
Climbing can help with your back pain if you do it at low volumes and intensity and as well as low loads, controlled movements, and slow and intentional movements, climbing can also be therapeutic for your back pain.
Does rock climbing strengthen your back?
A climber uses a constant rowing motion, or a downward pulling motion. These motions use the latissimus, rhomboids, middle and lower trapezius muscles in the back. In addition to keeping your shoulders back and your spine upright, these muscles often play a role in good posture.
Does rock climbing give you a good body?
As an alternative to pumping iron at the gym, indoor rock climbing uses almost every major muscle group in your body. You will pull your body up the wall with the help of the large muscles in your arms and legs, while your abs work to keep you stable and balanced.
What is rock climbing good for?
Muscles that are lean and endurance-building are developed through climbing. With climbing you will strengthen your hand and forearm muscles, shoulders, neck, upper back, lats, lower back, abs, glutes, thighs, and calves. Rock climbing benefits your entire body, including your cardiovascular system.