/ Climbing with disability - what's my upper limit?

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OneLifeOneHeart on 11 Nov 2012 - host86-166-242-41.range86-166.btcentralplus.com
I started hillwalking after recognizing it is good for my health, scrambling after seeing it as an advanced form of it, and then rock climbing after my friend - a young instructor - brought me to a few crags, with whom I have mostly done top-roping, but since a few weeks I also started bouldering unsupervised in the gyms. I never climb higher than 3-4 meters above the ground.

I am quite overweight and have some upper spine nerve pain caused by an injury I had about 6-7 years ago. It is still not known what exact injury I got, and even though the pain symptoms are of a slipped disc, the scans, MRI etc show absolutely nothing, i.e. I am "officially" healthy.
I have already searched all sorts of advice from all sorts of healthcare professionals and pseudo-doctors but the only thing I can do is ignore the pain and try to live my life to the fullest and do everything to stay healthy.

What clearly hurts my spine is anytime my limbs impact with something, including the ground (running, jumping, etc.). Push ups and hanging also stress the specific upper area of the spine (torso, behind chest).

Basically, I discovered climbing as an extension of activities that can help me stay in shape. But I am definitely not interested in the risky aspects and completely rule out going close to overhangs.

I get quite depressed when seeing others in the gym, including children, do really cool stuff, but I realize that I have to stay within my limits and that I chose this sport as a means to stay healthy - not for the adrenaline, not at all!

In spite of all that, I want to enjoy it to the best of my abilities and wondered whether there might be other people who have engaged in climbing despite having some physical impairment, who know exactly what movements are okay to do and what to avoid. Or have any general experiences to share.

At the moment, unless my friend/instructor is there, I never dare going above 4 meters unroped, and I seem to be more comfortable with routes where I don't have to stretch my arms too much.

How much can I learn?How far will I be able to go if I keep training?

Also, do you have any suggestions of which might be good indoor bouldering walls in/around London that have many easier routes?
needvert on 12 Nov 2012
In reply to OneLifeOneHeart:

Nice to see you wanting to get into something, rather than letting your issues stop you.

Imho you can go further and learn more than most, if you want it.

Climbers are interesting folks, that guy who after a broken neck was on the first ascent of sharks fine, or the guy who lost both lower legs to frost bite on Mt cook, then did Everest.

If you want it enough you'll find a way.

There's a lot of types of climbing, some more suited to you than not. Have a look around and try then. Rock, ice, snow, gyms, bouldering, aid, big walls, its all an option.
ben b - on 12 Nov 2012
In reply to OneLifeOneHeart: Keep with it: if you enjoy it, and want to improve you will get stronger and the core strength may help with many other issues too.

The person who is able to answer "Should I?" is probably just you - if you're having fun most of the time, go for it. Don't judge yourself against gangly kids. Plenty of traversing to be done - Mile End used to be great for this but I haven't been for 15 yrs+


mattc - on 12 Nov 2012
In reply to OneLifeOneHeart: Traversing and slabs are grate u can get ur feet working and not so much on the arms (less than the over hang anyway)
dale1968 on 12 Nov 2012
In reply to OneLifeOneHeart: Hi, I have PPMS which means cant walk more than twenty yards, one arm thats numb/weak, Im off to the quay climbing tomorrow,dont be sensible and wrap yourself up in cotton wool get out there do what you can and what you want, enjoy it dont judge yourself by other peoples standards, although disabled I am more able than so called able bodied people.
Best of luck and keep going the only acceptable excuse for not trying is death!
In reply to OneLifeOneHeart: http://www.ukclimbing.com/news/item.php?id=67461

See first vid

Your upper limit will be whatever you set yourself.

Enjoy climbing, it is great fun.

dale1968 on 12 Nov 2012
In reply to grumpybearpantsclimbinggoat: really inspirational vid, and top tips if you don't have all limbs functioning
GridNorth - on 12 Nov 2012
In reply to OneLifeOneHeart: Personally I find that climbing keeps my joints and muscles supple and gets rid of any aches and pains that I might have especially in the back and shoulders but then I'm not disabled just a little old and knackered.
JLS on 12 Nov 2012
In reply to OneLifeOneHeart:

>"exactly what movements are okay to do and what to avoid"

You'll need to find this out for yourself through trial and error.

For example using underclings greatly increase my chances of "putting my back out". Maybe for you it will be overhangs but some people find steep ground helps "stretch out" their back which aleviates their symptoms.

Dont be too quick to set your limits - suck it and see...

I think antagonist exercises to maintain muscle balance is even more important if your body has iffy components.

Ava Adore - on 12 Nov 2012
In reply to OneLifeOneHeart:

I have a permanent issue with my back which although managed to a degree with yoga, still misbehaves from time to time (like now). I also have to avoid landing with any impact so I cannot jump down from the top of a boulder problem, nor can I risk falling.

This inevitably means that I will never be able to really push my grade but on the plus side, it has made me a more precise climber as I can't afford sloppy movement. It also means that I get a better work out than those that drop from the top of the wall every time because I have to downclimb everything.

I have climbed up to V3 indoors and suspect I won't ever climb much harder than that but that does still generally give me plenty to go at at my local walls. On those times when my back is playing up but I am still able to move, I will climb but if I climb on my own I climb well within my grade and go for volume rather than difficulty. I'm fortunate enough to have a great climbing partner who is an excellent spotter and he protects me when he can.
jkarran - on 12 Nov 2012
In reply to OneLifeOneHeart:

Setting yourself 'upper limits' doesn't seem very constructive, if you believe you can't get past 'vertical 6b' for example you probably won't. Not because you can't but because you won't try.

You may find climbing hard (for you) exacerbates your back pain and that your early goals should be set in terms of keeping fit, moving smoothly and having fun without causing pain.

You may however find over time that the climbing helps to alleviate your pain* or that it improves gradually anyway in which case you could set more performance oriented goals.

*I quite reliably get (no doubt comparatively mild) back pain when I haven't been climbing for a while, it keeps me stretched out and moving freely. On the other hand focusing too heavily on bouldering causes me gradually worsening knee and foot pain from all the small falls.

I'd suggest you just enjoy what you can do, don't worry about the numbers or how it compares with the performance of others.
Skyfall - on 12 Nov 2012
In reply to OneLifeOneHeart:

There's a Scottish climber, Kevin Shields, who has most of one hand missing and who climbs pretty hard.


I suppose all disabilities are different and will place different limitations on you. However, there are many disabled climbers ranguing from those with minor to very significant issues who get a lot out of cllmbing. Actually, that's one of the great thing about climbing for everyone; it's a varied sport with so many sub-divisions that there's something for everyone and it's nice to switch between them over the years as your interess (and fitness levels!) change.
martinph78 on 12 Nov 2012
In reply to OneLifeOneHeart: I have had a prolapsed disk in my lower back twice now. The first time I let it stop me doing what I wanted, the second I fought to do what I could. I was due to have surgery on Wednesday this week. But you know what, once I got teh painkillers sorted to a managable level I continued climbing. 3 or 4 weeks ago something changed. My back injury is fixed and I cancelled teh surgery last week.

Don't know how, or why the physion couldn't do whatever it was I did climbing.

I also have the same (I think) upper back issue as you. Have done most of my life since an injury. Since climbing regularly it has all but gone. I can't remember when I last had the pain to be honest.

Without getting personal, you have said that you are overweight. Work on bringing the weight down (diet is the single most important factor for doing this) and improving your fitness. Your fitness will improve gradually, your climbing will improve gradually, and as your techinque improves I bet you'll find yourself climbing higher and harder.

Concentrate on getting your footwork in order, and getting your technique right. This should have you using your arms less to start with anyway and the rest will be a natural progression as you get fitter and leaner.

Try not to think about your back pain. I've done it, you think you can't move this way or that way so you don't and that just makes the issue worse. Your body will compensate to allow you to make that movement, but in a different way to normal. This will cause all sorts of imbalances that just get worse. Think about it like having a stone in your shoe for a month. After a week you'll look like you are walking normally, no one would know about the stone. Your body has compensated, you mind has taken teh stone as normal. Remove the stone after a month and you'll still "feel" that it's there, and your body will continue to walk as if there was a stone in your shoe. Again, it might look normal (and by now feel normal) but clearly it isn't.

What I'm saying is you can program work-arounds and imbalances, but that may just create problems elsewhere.

Hopefully our back problem will get better as you get more active and mobilise the joints etc.

Good luck!

antdav - on 12 Nov 2012
Everyone has limits which stop them climbing everything out there. Whether its being too short, too heavy, poor footwork, disability, mental block etc. Just take it slow and you'll soon realise where your limit is. Then try and find a way to break through it and set a new limit.

Start on top roped slabs as this will be low stress on your back and a very short fall when you do come unstuck. Talk to your belay about what you'd like to minimize the risk.

Many top climbers are specialists in one type of climbing. You could easily become a great slab climber and never touch an overhang. As long as you find a climbing partner who is a good match for you you can have a great climbing future.
Ava Adore - on 12 Nov 2012
In reply to antdav:
> Everyone has limits which stop them climbing everything out there. Whether its being too short, too heavy, poor footwork, disability, mental block etc.

Being too short doesn't stop you from climbing. Being in pain - and in fear of causing more pain - does.
Neil Williams - on 12 Nov 2012
In reply to Ava Adore:

"Being too short doesn't stop you from climbing."

Indeed, it depends on the route and who set it.

Being 6' 4" I find there are routes I just can't do because they are too cramped up and my arms aren't strong enough to do them with my whole (18st) weight on my arms alone, because my feet have to be too high up to take any of it, while someone 5' tall and equally heavy would be able to get some weight on their feet.

Unless you're short and all the route setters at your wall are tall, or vice versa, and pretty incompetent so they don't realise how to set a good variety of routes, it really doesn't make that much difference overall.

nniff - on 12 Nov 2012
In reply to OneLifeOneHeart:

A significant number of people nurse injuries or other impairments when they climb, but you wouldn't necessarily notice. For example, I'm very cautious about dynos, won't pull on something if it's too crimpy and will always climb down rather than jump when bouldering. THis protects an iffy shoulder, knackered tendon pulleys and dodgy knees & back respectively.

Ignore the bouncy kids - it'll all catch up with them one day.

THe only way to find out is to try, but avoid doing irreversible things (like jumping off).
Skyfall - on 13 Nov 2012
In reply to nniff:

> A significant number of people nurse injuries or other impairments when they climb, but you wouldn't necessarily notice.

Ooh yes, currently working aroung a knackered shoulder and a torn abdominal which is being very stubborn.
GarethSL on 13 Nov 2012
In reply to OneLifeOneHeart: For your wonderings, let these boys add to your inspiration, they most certainly add to mine!


Keep up your hillwalking, especially if the running causes you discomfort, this will help for your leg stamina and cardio. You could also try doing extended sessions of dumbbells and grips (Stressball type things) these I hope could improve your forearm strength without overly stressing your back muscles. This could help you feel a little more secure.

I have the feeling that once you start to become a little stronger and more confident in the way and what you climb, the bug will definitely bite.

Also don't be afraid to explain your situation to the wall staff, there's no reason why they couldn't set up a couple of routes that can help suit your needs!
homing-penguin - on 13 Nov 2012
In reply to OneLifeOneHeart: your upper limit isn't what's important, I climb to compete against myself, not other people.

If you're ever down Portland give us a shout.

Happy climbing

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