Injury Advice: Dealing With “Tweaks”

Let’s face it, climbing is hard on the body. In fact, it’s on a long list of things that the human body was never intended for: jumping off buildings with parachutes on, hucking 30 foot cliffs on skis, lifting massive amounts of weight, dangling from our finger tips, etc. Even so, it still comes as a surprise to many when injury strikes, how could this happen to me? The fact of the matter is many sports put unusual, and sometimes harmful, demands on our bodies that they occasionally protest from time to time.

We’ve covered actual injury fairly in depth on this site, from what to do initially to recovery and prevention. But somewhere between being healthy and injured lies the never never world of the “tweak.” We’ve all been there, and it’s often difficult to go to the climbing gym without running into someone who is talking about something they recently “tweaked.” Now sometimes this is just an injury that they are in denial about, but often there are little pains here and there that come as a result of pushing hard, and simply serve as signals from your body that you should pay attention to.

Thankfully, most tweaks are not full blown injuries, but simply your body giving some feedback that something wasn’t quite right. First off, figure out what happened and why. Where you pulling too hard with your upper body? Not engaging your core enough or pushing hard with your feet? Make a mental note and resolve to fix whatever was at the root of the problem. Next up, if you are proactive about dealing with these minor tweaks, you can keep them from turning into anything serious with a few simple steps.


Ice is your best friend. Its cooling properties seem to bring calm to almost any body part that’s got itself all worked up. Standard treatment is 15 to 20 minutes on, let the part reheat and then another 15 to 20 minutes. For elbows and shoulders, you’ll want a big ice pack that adequately covers whatever you are trying to cool. For fingers, get a big bowl that you can fully immerse it in, fill with cold water and ice cubes, and settle in for an episode of your favorite show on Hulu.


Sometimes muscles get overly tight, and you might feel some unusual throbbing in certain places. Common areas for this include the back of your forearms, and your triceps, often neglected muscles by climbers. Be sure to stretch and massage those sore areas that seem to give you problems, you’d be surprised how often this will release some tension and things will feel normal again.


While it may not be a full blown injury, maybe you need to give it a couple days to a week off. This can work wonders, and give your body some much needed downtime. It can also mean the difference between a small break from climbing, allowing something to recover fully, and some extended time off because you pushed it too hard.

Climb Smart

Often tweaks are the result of getting a little too agro. Early in your climbing career you might think you are invincible and can take anything. That illusion is usually shattered shortly after your second tweaked tendon or bout with tendinitis, but some are more stubborn than others. Be good to yourself. Just because some jackass set a route with a dyno to a shallow two finger pocket doesn’t mean you have to climb it, unless, of course, you actually like the sound of tendon detaching from bone. There are lots of routes out there, move to the next one and live to climb another day.

Anything else you’ve found helpful for dealing with “tweaks”?

Disclaimer: We’re not doctors, nor did we stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night. This is merely our advice based on personal experience and observations, take it or leave it.

2 Responses to Injury Advice: Dealing With “Tweaks”

  1. Nice post! It’s definitely important to recover from tweaks before they become more serious injuries. I’ve had two shoulder surgeries (more serious) and one finger tweak. I actually recently wrote a post about the mental side of injury: Staying psyched while injured.

    I’ve found an anti-inflammatory drug like Aleve to be helpful as well when dealing with smaller “tweak” injuries.

    Gif January 14, 2011 at 12:12 pm
    • A lot of people find drugs like alleve helpful, but I generally try to stay away from them. I prefer to get the straight feedback from my body, as opposed to “masking” the pain and thinking everything is alright.

      Good post on staying psyched, I also see times like that as a great opportunity to do the things you don’t have room for in your life when you are climbing full time.

      BJ Sbarra January 14, 2011 at 3:57 pm
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