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Injuries and Medical Advice

Can I ever climb again?

My middle-finger knuckles have tender growths. It hurts to push on the side of the joint. I'm 36 and have been climbing 17 years. The doctor said my k...

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In mid June, I fell bouldering. It was a bad landing and moderately compressed my second and third lumbar. On my foot, my navicular was broken, my cuboid crushed, and my talus resembled gravel. After two surgeries, three plates and tons of screws, my foot is on the mend. The doctor said that I could backpack, but I can’t ever run or put any kind of impact on my foot due to lots of cartilage damage; my foot has a limited amount of steps before arthritis sets in. Can I ever climb again?

Max | via e-mail

In the late 20th century, before I became a medical sage, I bouldered with a guy who went by the handle Gatito, meaning kitten. In a double entendre euphemistic kind of way, he was just that, a 6’3 wrought-iron sculpture, he went about the world wide-eyed and playful.

A minor fall on scree a couple of years before had resulted in multiple fractures in his ankle followed by several operations. His foot was fused in every direction with virtually no motion at the ankle itself, and resembled a prosthetic limb that a dog had chewed on.

We met in Refugio Frey, Patagonia, both partner-less. Gatito’s diamond-bit fingertips pulled harder than a tractor on nitrous. He out-bouldered, out-climbed and out-socialized me at every turn. He took whippers, walked for hours up exfoliating Patagonian slopes, had no bouldering pad and drank his body weight in mat© every morning at 30 different camps.

Not to say his ankle was without issues. From joint stiffness and cartilage damage is born a multitude of pathologies, namely tendonitis and early joint degeneration. But he adapted and made things workable.

Your injury is a mild swerve to the left, not the end of the road. It doesn’t sound like your doc has advised against climbing, and neither would I. I saw a guy today who was stopped on a 100-footer by a loop of static line that snagged around his ankle. Two plates and 12 screws. His surgeon was smart: Climbing is great for it. Go climbing. It will develop strength and range of motion. Knighthood!

Impact, however, is bad. Avoid slabs (like you needed an excuse!), buy a phat pad. Lowballs are the new black.

Arthritis has started already, you have a limited amount of steps before you notice it!