#204 Rock climbing is a lot like sports medicine - DOC

#204 Rock climbing is a lot like sports medicine

Today on the Doc On The Run podcast, we’re talking about how rock climbing is a lot like sports medicine.

This weekend I was rock climbing in Joshua Tree National Park with my son. At one point he started climbing up to a point where we were going to practice rappelling. 

He chose to climb up a way I knew was more difficult than necessary. But he wanted to proceed, so I let him. 

I knew he could climb it but I knew it would be close to the top of his safe level of climbing ability. About three-quarters of the way up, he got a little nervous, he looked back at me and said, “I think I want to come down.” 

I said, “Absolutely not.” 

I knew he couldn’t down climb without falling. But I also knew he could climb up without falling. So that only left one reasonable choice. Continue on. 

In medical school I was on rotation once with a doctor named Dr. Dobbs. One day in clinic we were talking about rock climbing. 

When I was discussing all the variables that went into successfully getting up a rock climb without getting hurt, Dr. Dobbs said, 

“Sounds like climbing is a lot like medicine. You have to make a lot of different decisions, based on a lot of different variables and then decide whether or not any given course of action is reasonable.” 

You have to know whether or not you can proceed with the given activity without getting hurt. 

Almost daily listeners of the podcast send messages to me through the contact form on the website asking me for permission to run. 

I never, ever answer these inquiries. Most often I reply with an offer to schedule a time to talk on the phone or on webcam, but I cannot ever answer those questions that come through the contact form because they don’t have enough information.

The main reason I can’t answer these questions is that I don’t have enough information to make a decision. 

If my son asked, “Hey Dad, Can I climb up a 75-foot route in Joshua Tree?” 

The short answer would be yes. 

But the real, unspoken questions is whether or not he could climb up a 75-foot route in Joshua Tree Getting without getting hurt. 

That question cannot be answered without more information. 

Here’s another example from the contact form submissions…

“Hi! I’m an elite nationally ranked athlete. I have a broken toe. My doctor did X-rays and my doctor said ‘don’t run for four to six weeks.’ Can I still run, train and do my race?”

The answer to that specific question is… “Yes you can do whatever you want.”

You can do anything you want. You just have to be wiling to pay the consequences. 

But what I don’t know is whether or not you’re going to make the broken toe worse. To answer that, I would need more information about your specific situation. 

That requires a lot of different questions and taking in all the necessary information

about how its healing, what it looks like, and what it feels like when you do certain things.

I need all that information to really help you make a decision about whether or not it’s going to be reasonable for you to run, train and do the race without making the fracture worse. 

You can climb anywhere you want. You can climb as high as you want. You can run as far as you want. You just have to make sure your rope is not running over some sharp edge. Otherwise you might find that only the ground will break your fall. 

There may be some special exceptions. Most runners can run and still heal. But only with certain modifications. Sometimes you can run if you can decrease the force and stresses applied to the injures tissues. 

Do just run. Get guidance. Talk to an expert and make sure you make the right decision for you before you start running.

If you think you are ready to run, you are at HIGH RISK of another injury.


Follow a careful test run plan and transition safely back to running.

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If you have a question that you would like answered as a future addition of the Doc On The Run Podcast, send it to me PodcastQuestion@docontherun.com. And then make sure you join me for the next edition of the Doc On The Run Podcast!