Sunday, 6 October 2013

Injures in Indoor Rock Climbing: New Research

Now the winter is fast approaching, all but the most tenacious of climbers will scurry indoors. But just how "safe" is indoor climbing?

Well, a new paper has been published this year by Schoffl, Hoffmann and Kupper in Wilderness and Environmental Mecicine has reported on the rate of injuries reported in an indoor climbing wall in Germany.

This study was performed over a 5 year period and was performed prospectively, rather than retrospectively as previous studies have. This meant that less bias could be introduced to the study, due to the events not having already occurred and the results unknown.

This study also had the advantage that climbing time could be monitored exactly due to an electronic entry and exit system at the climbing wall used.

There was a large number of participants registered in the study (515, 337), but this could of been higher due to those involved in group sessions not being counted separately.

Demographic data of the study found 63.6% of climbers were male, the remaining female, with ages between 8 and 80 years old (median being 34 years old). Average climbing time was 2 hours 47 minutes.
The authors reported 30 injuries in total over the 5 year period; 6 cases whilst bouldering, 16 lead climbing, 7 toproping, and in 1 case as a third person (not climbing or belaying) while watching another climber. Bouldering injuries were mostly the result of falls onto the mat, whereas in lead and toprope climbing various scenarios happened, but mostly resulting from belaying mistakes. Fifteen (50%) injuries were UIAA MedCom grade 2, 13 (43%) were grade 3, and 2 (7%) were grade 4, with no fatalities.

Injuries happened in beginner climbers in 5 (16.7%), in intermediate climbers in 16 (53.3%), in experts in 6 (20%), and in professionals in 3 (10%) cases.

In studies such as this, the safety aspect of a sport is given as a number of injuries per 1000 participation hours. The authors concluded that this study had 0.02 injuries per 1000 hours of climbing time, (similar to previous studies) and also much lower than other sports, such as surfing (13 per 1000 hours of competitive surfing (Nathason et al 2007)) and rugby (91 injuries per 1000 player hours (Brooks et al 2005)).

Of the injuries that occurred, the authors report that many of them were preventable, such as belaying or knot tying mistakes.

However, this study did have some flaws, of which are discussed below:

  1. This study was only performed in one climbing gym, which may have been a particularly well run gym, and therefore have a better safety record, which the study recognises
  2. Climbing time less than 30 mins and over 5 hours was omitted (due to probability of less than 30 mins not going to have been a climbing visit, or over 5 hours someone forgetting to log out). However, how many of us pop in to our local wall for a lunch time session, or spend the whole day there and stop for lunch etc?!
  3. Only injuries that occurred while at the wall that required medical attention then and there were recorded. No overuse/chronic injuries, or those that may have been discovered after the climbing session were recorded.
But there you are, relative to other sports, indoor rock climbing has a much lower risk of injury. 

This article is also available on the BMC website, along with information on preventing becoming an indoor wall injury statistic yourself!

    Brooks JHM, Fuller CW, Kemp SPT, Reddin DB 2005 Epidemiology of injuries in English professional rugby union: part 1 match injuries. Br J Sports Med 39:757–766

    Nathanson A, Bird S, Dao L, Tam-Sing K 2006 Competitive surfing injuries: a prospective study of surfing-related injuries among contest surfers.A m J Sports Med. 35(1):113-7.

    Schöffl VR, Hoffmann G, Küpper T 2013 Acute injury risk and severity in indoor climbing-a prospective analysis of 515,337 indoor climbing wall visits in 5 years. Wilderness Environ Med. 24(3):187-94