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Michaela Kiersch: An Interview with Climbing PT Carrie Cooper

Rock and Ice online contributing writer Michaela Kiersch talks to Carrie Cooper, DPT, about the benefits of climbing-specific physical therapy.

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I have been climbing for the better part of 15 years and until recently, I had never been to a physical therapist. Since moving to Salt Lake City, Utah, in January, I have begun to see Dr. Carrie Cooper regularly. Initially, I reached out because of an injured hamstring. However, I quickly learned that Carrie would be a useful tool in my climbing, whether I was injured or not. I have been going to Carrie almost weekly for general movement check ups, small tweaks and preventative physical therapy. Now I want to spread some information about climbing specific physical therapy and how much it has helped me—I hope you enjoy!

Michaela Kiersch

Q&A: Michaela Kiersch Interviews Carrie Cooper, DPT

MK: Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and what you do?

Dr. Cooper: I’m a Doctor of Physical Therapy with a passion for working with climbers. This passion has led me to opening my own business and working directly with climbers for the last two years. I also have the great pleasure of being a USA Climbing Team PT and I get to work with members of the national team weekly in Salt Lake City as well as working with them at competitions both nationally and internationally. I LOVE my job.

MK: What is climbing specific PT?

Dr. Cooper: Climbing injuries occur during climbing. In order to treat climbers we have to have an understanding of the movements and skills required for climbing. With this understanding I can picture the moves and understand exactly how someone incurred an injury or what positions a person feels pain and discomfort. I have the knowledge to assess the fundamentals of climbing movement. In order to progress a climber through their rehab and into performance, it is integral that a clinician understand what forces are being applied during an activity. Even a basic understanding of climbing movement is better than none at all.

MK: Why is seeing a climbing specific PT important for professional and recreational climbers?

Dr. Cooper: We speak the same language. More often than not climbing injuries are not traumatic. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen climbers with an injury who end up stronger afterwards only because their exercises are geared to climbing specific needs. Because climbers haven’t (historically) been represented in the research, there is little information but clinical experience to draw on for treating climbers.

I have had 20 years of climbing injuries (I’m pretty injury prone but I take my own medicine.) that have fueled my interest to understand and most importantly get these injuries better A.S.A.P. I’m proud to be an invited presenter at the International Rock Climbing Research Association conference this July. I’ll be presenting my Classification Schema for A2 Pulley Strains. I hope this will provide a base from which therapists can classify and develop appropriate treatment plans and reduce the healing time. It’s a great honor to be able to present to the international climbing community and to add to the breath of climbing related research.

Alex Puccio getting worked on.

MK: Should someone still seek climbing specific PT if he or she doesn’t currently have an injury? What do you do for climbers long term?

Dr. Cooper: Preventative care is exactly that. You come in, get a check up just like you would go to your dentist. Even if you have small tweaks here and there especially in the Upper Extremities. I’m talking shoulders, elbows, wrists, and fingers. These are our tools as climbers. It’s a simple evaluation that can save you weeks to months of issue if caught early or at the very least you get to identify and train your weaknesses.

MK: How can others contact you? Is it possible to work with you long distance?

Dr. Cooper: I do remote consultations all over the world via FaceTime, Google Hangout, etc. Or if you are in the area or stopping through, I’m located in Salt Lake City, UT. Either way, I love working with climbers. Contacting me via email is the best way to reach me.

MICHAELA KIERSCH, from Chicago, IL, is a fresh college grad of DePaul University and a professional climber. She currently lives in Salt Lake City, UT. Among her most notable sends are Pure ImaginationLucifer and the first female ascent of Golden Ticket-–all 5.14c. She was a former US National Champion in both bouldering and lead. Her favorite color is purple.

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