SELF TEST: Can You Diagnose the 3 Most Common Wrist Pains with Climbing?

You’ve searched the internet for your wrist pain, clicking, clunking and you’ve come up with a wrist TFCC injury. All the websites point towards it. Think again. This region of fibrocartilage is the least likely pain creator in a climber. Read below to learn why. First, I show you the other more likely injuries that you can sustain in your wrist. Ligamentous tears, tendonosis, or just plain hyper mobility (without an injury or with a capsular sprain).

Here are the three most common scenarios common to climbers. Try to think through each as to what injury they might have, and if this might be you, learn more about these textbook injuries that I see commonly in my office.

Scenario One: The Aggressive Barn Door

You grab onto a vertical or past vertical overhead hold and then barn door off of it, twisting your whole body about your wrist while you attempt not to let go. Some, with the torsion and force going into the wrist itself, will feel tearing, popping and/or immediate pain. All will feel gingerly uncomfortable with using the wrist after this injury and have conflicting thoughts about trusting the wrist again in the same type of a scenario. This feels unsafe with all climbing holds and it might or might not be swollen compared to the opposing side.

Location: Center of wrist or anywhere in a focal, small or large region of the wrist. Often felt on the top (or back) of the wrist and can be near the base of the thumb, along the midline, or towards the outer side of the wrist.

Scenario Two: The Abnormal Shift or Popping Sensation

You load into a full on overhead sloper, with full wrist flexion, and you feel your wrist gap and give with or without pain or pops. This happens often, might or might not be accompanied by pain, and it feels unstable with loading. You likely have not had a major injury prior to this, and likely are very flexible in regards to joint mobility.

Location: Deep within the wrist as compared to superficial, feels more like joint than muscle or tendon, feels like gapping or shifting. Symptoms occur with loading of the wrist, not with wrist motions while unloaded.

Scenario 3: Chronic pain, clicking or snapping at the wrist.

You begin having slowly increasing and/or constantly chronic wrist pain with climbing that is focused to the underside of the wrist in the outer quadrant of your wrist in line with your 5th digit (pinkie) or in midline down the wrist. This hurts with side pulls, slopers, wide pinches, and/or underclings. You likely have a high computer use, are a guitar player and/or play computer games in your off time.

Location: Feels like it is along the surface, feels like structures rubbing/pinching or a sharp pain in a focal region along along the bone/tendon interface with wrist side to side motion or flexion extension motions. You likely feel clicks and snaps as you rotate the wrist or bend the wrist in the same region in severe cases.