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Injuries and Medical Advice

Can Anything Help Belayer’s Neck?

Bat hangs can provide transient relief. Belay glasses are your friend.

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Does bat hanging in inversion boots help a bad neck?When I belay and look up, my right triceps twitches and aches. If I immediately look down and left, the agony goes away. I have had three vertebrae fused in my neck.

—Dan Ramos/Homer, Alaska

The problem is that the fused vertebrae no longer accommodate much mechanical load. They are not so much the cause of your pain, but the neighboring discs
are suffering structural fatigue.

The nerve root exits the spinal column through a small space between the vertebrae known as a foramen. Space-occupying lesions such as a disc bulge or
bone spur can place pressure on the nerve as it passes through this space. In simple terms, nerves do not like entrapment and they will let you know
in no uncertain terms, pain being their number-one messenger. You may also get numbness, twitching and weakness in your hand and/or arm.

Inversion can reduce pain while you are inverted because the weight of your head tractions the vertebra, increasing the size of the foramen. The head position
you describe that relieves your pain essentially achieves the same outcome. There is, however, no evidence to suggest any therapeutic effect outside
of transient pain relief limited to the time you hold the position. Belay glasses are your friend. Gentle stretching is a worthy exercise. Be careful
with yoga. Most instructors don’t realize that climbers have no physical hand brake and will go hard until something gives way.

This article was published in Rock and Ice No. 212 (September 2013).