Nasty Feet: What research tells us about ourselves.




Think your nasty feet are alone?

Nope. it's common, almost expected for climbers and today we jump into the nitty gritty of it.


Today I'm excited to present climbing specific research, hot off the press which pairs nicely my Un-Sprained Podcast Episode 25, Nasty Feet which you can listen to here. If you haven't listened to this climbing injury podcast, download it for our next drive to the gym or crag wherever you find your podcasts.


In this article, we hit up the findings of this study. We also discuss the most common foot abnormalities seen in climbers. This includes big toe injuries and stiffness, claw toe deformities, and nail damage among others.



Let's delve into this new yummy research shall we?



Research Study:


A new Spanish study, "Epidemiological Study of Foot Injuries in the Sport of Rock Climbing" was conducted on climbers and their feet at the University of Extremadura and just published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health this last April (2022).


Details:


>> 53 climbers were collected

>> They on average had climbed for 7+ years

>> Climbers volume on average was 6.6+ hours a week.



These climbers were evaluated for:

  1. Visual Abnormalities

  2. Pain

  3. Injuries to their feet as sustained in climbing.




The climbers were asked many questions including how these injuries affected their daily lives, how often they felt pain , and what percentage of their day they noticed symptoms. They filled out questionnaires and their answers were logged to ask the question, do climbers unnecessarily suffer from more foot abnormalities tan the average Joe, and if so, what can we do about it?



Results:



>> 70% of climbers had a visual abnormality or a physical injury to their feet from climbing.


>> 45% of climbers had pain in their feet or toes during climbing.


>> Chronological age was independent and unrelated to injury status


>> 59% of climbers exhibited claw toe deformities (or curled up stiff rigid toes)


>> 15% of climbers had changes to the toenail or nail bed (Onychodystrophies)


>> Toe pain when climbing was felt in the big or first toe (45% of climbers).


>> Females exhibit 20% more foot injuries than their male counterparts. (footwear?!)






Yes, you are not alone. Climbers abuse, torture and otherwise disregard their feet as a whole.



Discussion:



Our nasty, gross feet are a byproduct of the forces and the time that we put into climbing. The higher the level we climb, and the harder it is, the more foot problems we exhibit. And a link has been established between bad fitting footwear and more issues, including achilles tendon damage and rubbing for those requiring gender specific shoes.

The statistics are quite high in this study and I would LOVE to know if they re all boulderers and if they were at a competition when they were asked to join this study. However, it is a good indicator for those who jam their feet into tiny shoes as a daily mantra.


I absolutely do, but do YOU think these statistics are startling? I'd love to know your thoughts. Perhaps an eye opener?! Reading down this list, do YOU yourself exhibit any of these symptoms that make you think HUH, that's me!?!

Sadly, chances are you do.




The big takeaway from this research is that we need to focus on our feet more than we think.


Climbers often ignore pain and climb through it. Footwear (tight shoes) and shoe type (aggressive shoes or those that don't fit correctly for YOUR body) are absolutely related to foot pain that builds and injuries that stack up. Now, don't worry if you have foot pain here and there, we all do, but if you have chronic pain, or if it occurring more than NOT, let's talk. So what do we do about these common disorders, and how do we manage them at home?


Research shows that the more time you spend climbing, the most likely you are to acquire something you DON'T want off this list, especially if you are female. And there are a few reasons for that (which we will get into later in this article).


So let's look at each finding individually and see if there is any self-care or prevention that we can recommend, and also for those of you who have these issues, management of cases that are already present and have been for quite some time- What do you do about it! Relax my friend, I've got you!



First, two rules of thumb... If you ignore the pain and let it last month after month or year into year, it can become something that is more and more unlikely to go away on its own. If this is you, and you need help, please reach out. Climbing should be fun, not a sufferfest, unless you want it to be.


There is a LOT of mechanical loading into the climbers toe and foot that doesn't occur in other sports. We load the toe mechanically with the pressure from our shoes, and also again with the forces from pushing off of it. So we are special (in the head as well as physically). Unlike other sports, our pain is created locally and while climbing, there is not a whole lot we can do about it. But this and other injuries CAN be supported and unraveled to give you many more years of climbing under your belt. So lets delve in shall we!?


Takeaways:

Researchers Want You to have a Good FOOT Warm-Up.

Yes, you. Warm-ups for your feet are important. Your warm-up increases the temperature and flexibility of your tissues to decrease the likelihood of tear. A warm-up also increases the elasticity of your tissues to load, meaning less damage to sudden extremes (like a big high-step, or a jump to a tiny foot chip). If you have a nice beautiful warm-up, that is foot and ankle specific, then we are really talking in regards to keeping your injury risks at bay. Most climbers warm-up with just, well, climbing. But we can do better than that!


Good Foot Specific Warm-up Recommendations:

  • Ankle circles

  • Down Dog Yoga Pose

  • Rubberband Exercises

  • Toe Towel Pickup

  • Edge walking

  • Tippie Toe Walking

  • Wobble Boards/Discs

  • Toe & Bottom of the foot stretches

In future articles, we will hit up each foot issue covered in this study and will hit up the discussion about what you can do about it. (HINT, it's in the podcast).

If you are interested, please reach out about a particular foot disorder (climbing related of course!) and yours might be featured first.


AND Of course, nasty gross photos are always admired ;-)



Nutritional Questions Requested!!


For an coming episode, I met up with nutritionist and author Marisa Michael, out of Oregon. A climber and an author of Nutrition for Climbers, we are going to get into all things salt, heat and diet related. SO send in your questions to info@returntoclimbing.com so that we can get you going quickly!


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