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Injuries and Medical Advice

Swollen Right Index Finger

Persistent swelling in overloaded joint.

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This article was published in Rock and Ice issue 203 (July 2012).


For the past six months (give or take a week) my right index finger has been swollen around the first finger joint above the knuckle. It is, however, very swollen and the past several mornings it has been especially stiff. I am 24 and have been climbing for seven months. Climbing causes no pain, but any lateral pressure applied to the index finger (such as scooping peanut butter or using the touch pad on my laptop) can cause a minor twinge. There is a bit of stiffness and grinding, but it’s fairly minor and goes away after I warm up. If I fully extend the finger a distinct clicking noise seems to come from the lateral ligament (on the left side of the right index finger). Should I take an extended break from climbing? Avoid crimps? Switch to squeezable peanut butter?

—Evan, via rockandice.com

Sounds like you are suffering in a joint that is not accustomed to what you are asking of it. This kind of issue is quite common among beginners. The synovial surface and connective tissues that give stability to the joint are simply not strong enough to cope with the load. This prevents the bone ends from operating in a nice mechanical fashion, which leads to inflammation and, usually, pain.

Slow down, cowboy. There’s still time for you to become world champion, but you are just going to have to let your bits adjust to the load. The first couple of years of climbing are where most of this “adjustment” takes place, so be careful and give your body all the rest it needs. Let pain be your guide.

Avoid crimps like they were made of asbestos and coated with arsenic. Avoid squeezable peanut butter as a general rule.


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