The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine

Indoor Rock Climbing Accidents On The Rise

Posted by on Friday, July 19th, 2013


Rock climbing used to be an extreme sport reserved for bold daredevils. These days, over 300,000 Americans have tried climbing an indoor rock wall, says the Law Offices of Nelson Barry. Along with a high participation level comes a higher number of foot and ankle injuries, though. There has been a 63% increase in the number of patients seen in emergency rooms from 1990 to 2007, with more than 40,000 rock climbing accidents, according to a study conducted by Nationwide Children’s Hospital.

The Ankle Is The Most Commonly Injured Body Part.

The study found that lower extremities were the most common region of the body to be injured — accounting for 46% of the wounds. About 29% of the people suffered fractures and another 29% suffered strains. Falls were the primary method of injury. “We found that the climbers who fell from heights higher than 20 feet accounted for 70 percent of the patients there were hospitalized for a rock climbing-related injury,” explained study author Lara McKenzie, PhD.

Who Gets Hurt Rock Climbing?

Climbers in the study ranged in age from two to 74. More than half of the injuries (56%) were sustained by climbers in the 20-39 age bracket. Another 30% of the injuries occurred in children 19 and younger, while climbers over 40 accounted for the remaining 14% of injuries. Women accounted for 28% of the rock climbing injuries.

Causes of Indoor Rock Climbing Injuries

The good news is that most people use harnesses while climbing indoor rock walls. Therefore, when they fall, they tend to land on their feet, rather than their head, neck or shoulder or pelvis. While this may prevent life-threatening injuries, it also means there are more ankle and foot injuries. Contributing factors to the falling accident may include:

  • Tangled harnesses
  • Contact with rock climbing walls
  • A missed grip
  • Poor supervision

Is It A Broken Ankle Or A Sprained Ankle?

Often when people fall, they aren’t really sure of the injury’s extent. Was it a bruise, a sprain, or a break? We find that most people who come into our office have continued to climb or walk on their injuries until the pain becomes unbearable. Here are some questions you can ask yourself to determine whether your ankle or foot may be broken or just sprained:

  • Is the pain constant? (Yes – break)
  • Do you only feel pain when you put weight on your ankle? (Yes – sprain)
  • Can you wiggle your toes? (No – break)
  • Did you hear a “pop” or “crack” sound? (Yes – break)
  • Without moving your ankle, can you massage the foot from top to bottom with no excruciating pain? (Yes – sprain)
  • Did the injury occur near a bone? (Yes – break). Or near a ligament? (Yes – sprain).

The best way to tell what has really happened is to visit a podiatric care specialist for an x-ray. From there, he or she can prescribe a course of treatment and any corrective footwear that will stabilize your recovery in the coming weeks or months.


If you have any foot problems or pain, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports MedicineDr. Josef J. GeldwertDr. Katherine Lai, Dr. Ryan Minara and Dr. Mariola Rivera have helped thousands of people get back on their feet. Unfortunately, we cannot give diagnoses or treatment advice online. Please make an appointment to see us if you live in the NY metropolitan area or seek out a podiatrist in your area.