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Tape and Other Catastrophes

Contributed to Chockstone by Dr Julian Saunders (BMSc BSc MHSc osteopathy) of Athlon Sports Medicine.


Lesson Number 1: tape is not made of collagen; that is, the strong protein that forms tissues such as tendons, ligaments and pullies. Err der! Quite obvious really, but you would be stunned at the delusional capacity of an injured climber.

Pullies are small straps of tissue which loop over the tendons and hold them close to the bone. Taping to give strength to an injured pullie, and hence continuing to climb, is an exercise in futility. You might as well offer yourself to the God of Injuries and hurl yourself into the Volcano of Degeneration, for you will surely relinquish yourself to a progressively worsening condition. So before you hurl yourself over this precipice, use the most important tool available to you: your brain.

There are only two reasons to tape a pullie injury: firstly, to limit potentially damaging finger motion; and secondly, to remind yourself that you have an injury. Don’t underestimate the latter as a rehabilitation tool. Tape accordingly!

Injury recovery is about letting an acute injury settle and stabilize, and avoiding aggravating activity whilst it is healing. Following this you can begin to strengthen the pullie back to its original capacity, plus more if the injury was a result of weakness rather than an abnormal shock load. It is during this phase that taping can be useful.

TAPING METHODS   Push For The Summit

As per Lesson Number1, tape does not replace your pullies, nor does it supplement their strength. If you get the tape tight enough to do so, all you will end up with is a self-inflicted necrosing finger. (For more information regarding pullies go to I have seen a vast array of taping methods, with the intricate ‘figure 8’ around the joint being probably the most popular. Essentially these techniques are a waste of time, as they are attempting to unload the injured pullie system while maintaining range of movement. Done tight enough it may actually achieve this, and then your finger will progress through a panorama of colours, culminating in a lovely blue/black that will match the toe nail you stubbed last week. Like the toe nail, your finger may well fall off! Though probably sooner and certainly more smelly.

Realistically, taping can only be afforded in two of many possible climbing-related finger injuries. They are injuries to the A2 and A3 pullies. If torn, pain is typically felt at the sides of the injured digit, most often on the little finger side of the ring or index finger. Pain can, however, be located anywhere between the first and last joints. It can be sharp or dull whilst climbing, though is usually dull after you have finished and cooled down. It is normally aggravated by crimping and direct pressure. Having a gentle feel with your thumb is a good way of locating the tender area.

To be effective, correct taping of A2 and A3 pullies must result in restricting the ability of the finger to bend in the middle. To apply the correct technique, first note that there are three creases on the front of each finger; one at the base, middle and end. With your finger straight, tape from half way between the first two and finish half way between the second and third, overlapping the tape 50%. You will quickly realize that your capacity to crimp is zero. Perfect. It will be great for your climbing, as studies have shown open hand to have greater endurance.

This method works for both A2 and A3 injuries. If you cannot bend the middle joint (known as the proximal interphalangeal joint), the A3 pullie is directly protected. Climbing is such that, in most instances, if you cannot bend this joint then you will not bend the one below it, thereby indirectly protecting the A2 pullie. If you find a way to bend this latter joint whilst holding on …don’t, e.g. pulling on a flat jug.

Lesson Number 2: recovery is a process. Consider pain as an index of the damage you are doing. If it is not painful, you are probably fine. And this includes during your warm up. Reduce the tightness of the tape slowly and progressively over a number of weeks depending on whether it hurts following each session.

Remember, this is a guide only. You must first see a qualified medical specialist to assess and diagnose your injury. This may be anyone from a myotherapist to a hand specialist, and has more to do with their understanding of climbing injuries than the number of degrees they have. Most medicos will not have had much experience with this type of injury, not least of all because climbers don't often ask for their opinion.

Lesson Number 3: pre-emptive taping, like the currently popular pre-emptive strike, will get you in a big pot of poo. Like George W Bush, it may take a while for the odious aroma of error to reach your senses. If it is at all effective, the physiological rules of engagement will predicate a long term progressive weakening of the pullie system. You don't want that.


Contact dermatitis is probably the most common. This is a local skin reaction in response to the tapes adhesives. Cheap tapes use cheap adhesives and as such elicit a greater propensity to cause contact dermatitis. To minimise this apply brown Leuko tape only. If you are sensitive to tape then use a hypoallergenic underlay such as Fixomul. When you finish climbing be sure to wash off all the sticky stuff and apply a skin cream.

Tape Slacking
Tape will also slacken over a relatively short period of time. You will need to re-tape every hour or so to maintain its effectiveness, irrespective of whether the injury site is not painfull.

FINALLY...   Push For The Summit

Lesson Number 4: physiological overload interspersed with rest generates strength; overload without rest causes degeneration. Not a difficult concept. All climbers will, however, be injured at some point. It is the nature of climbers that they try, at times, too hard, or things just don’t quite go according to plan. Your injury’s worst enemy is your ego, which will tell you that you too can look good doing 1-5-9 on the campus board just like Bla Bla. Ironically, the same passion that drives you to go climbing in the first place will also hinder your recovery. If you get an injury, be smart about it. Mmm...sounds like a road safety commercial. You get the idea though.


Further Reading:
Will Taping Help Protect Me From Finger Injuries - From TradGirl web site.


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