Mend Physical Therapy Blog and Injury Information

How to Safely Return to Climbing After and Injury or Hiatus from Rock Climbing

April 26, 2022

Returning to rock climbing after an injury or an extended break from the sport can be challenging. Many climbers do too much too quickly and end up re-aggravating their previous injury or causing a new one. While it may seem obvious to “go slow” and return to climbing “gradually”, there is little to no guidance as to the specifics for an appropriate return-to-climbing protocol.

Something that makes this extra challenging is that we often can’t appreciate how strenuous a workout was until the day afterward, making it difficult to make appropriate adjustments within your climbing session. Using on the evidence-based “soreness rules”, as defined by the University of Delaware, we can create a structured protocol to gives us clear guidelines for returning to climbing. The soreness rules have been used widely in clinical practice for athletes with upper body and lower body injuries.

Use the following evidence-based guidelines to safely return to rock climbing after an injury or after taking a few months off of climbing. The guidelines utilize ranges so use your best judgement as to whether to progress more conservatively or more aggressively.

Soreness is defined by soreness in either muscles/tendons or joints.

The next question is: how do you know what constitutes 10% or 25%. For this we can use the number of climbs and the difficulty of climbs. This of course must come with the caveat that climbing grades are subjective and you must consider all aspects of the climb as it pertains to the stresses on your body. For example, a technical and balancy 5.11c might be less stress on your shoulder joint than an over-hanging 5.10d. Once again, use your best judgement.


Use the following “point-system” to guide the overall time-under-tension of your tissues.

For bouldering it’s much easier: V1=1 point, V2=2 points, etc.

Add up the number of points in the session based on how many pitches/boulders you completed. Then you can use this score as a benchmark to progress/regress your return to climbing program.


Here are some examples:

If you have more questions about your return to climbing progression, email the experts at Mend. Or to get a return to climbing program specified to your exact needs, schedule an evaluation with the rock climbing rehab specialists at Mend. Our doctors of physical therapy are located in Boulder and Lafayette, Colorado and are specialty trained in orthopedics and strength and conditioning.