Ankle injuries in rock climbers: prevention and rehabilitation

Boulderers might be aware of certain common injuries associated with the activety: finger injuries, elbow pain, shoulder aches and postural "climber's back" quickly come to mind.  However, did you know that the most common bouldering injury is a sprained ankle?

Ankle sprains are the #1 musculoskeletal injury for all activities, and bouldering is no exception. In fact, the combination of footwear, unstable landing surfaces, height and an unexpected drop creates the perfect storm for an ankle sprain.


Climbing shoes are terrible for your feet.   There is a false culture of wearing overly aggressive shoes in an attempt to improve performance.  But does it?  This practice evolved from a time when shoes were not specifically made for climbing, per se.  So climbers adapted by purchasing smaller shoes and wearing them snug, with the understanding that the shoe would mould to their foot.  As climbing footwear technology advanced, this culture persisted.  Today, an aggressive shoe has taken a freakish shape.

While the shape of the shoe might be good for getting on a small footer, there is a problem with this forced position your foot must adopt.  When landing, your super snug shoe has your foot in the least stable position.  Couple this instability with landing on an unsteady surface during an unexpected often leads to a nasty ankle injury.  Common ankle injuries seen in bouldering are sprains and strains, breaks, dislocations, syndesmotic sprains and talus/calcaneus fractures.  If possible, leave the less aggressive shoes behind and adopt a more comfortable, flatter shoe.  Not only is it safer for your ankles, it's also healthier for your feet.   


Who is at risk for an ankle injury? The biggest predictor for injury is a prior injury.  So, if you have had a previous injury, or a history of recurrent ankle sprains, ensure you are properly rehabilitated.  And if you have suffered a recent injury, be aware that it can increase the likelihood of an aggravation to your condition.

Always do a proper warm up.  


Training drills for landing safely is recommended.  9 Degrees offers free safe landing workshops on the 1st and 3rd Wednesday of the month at 7pm.

No prevention program has been able to demonstrate that it can fully prevent an injury in rock climbers. Similarly, taping and bracing will not provide you with greater structural stability. However, it stands to reason that strengthening your ankle, improving your balance and practicing landing drills can benefit you.  

The following exercises mimic landing in rock climbing.  They are quite advanced exercises and should be attempted and progressed sensibly.  If you have recently sustained an ankle injury, or if you have not attempted exercises such as these in a long time, seek advice prior to trying them.