You know the sound that is created by pulling masking tape off of a wall? That, apparently, is a pretty good approximation for the sound of tearing ligaments.
It was on Sunday, September 28th that I got my finger painfully stuck in a slot, hyperextending the PIP joint of my left middle finger. I went down the dark rabbit hole of internet research, fully convinced that, at the least, I’d broken my finger and contracted ebola.
On Wednesday, October 1st, I saw Dr. Vedder at the University of Washington Hand Center at the Sports Medicine Clinic in Seattle, WA. My close friend Evan, graduate of UW’s Physician Assistant program, recommended their clinic; he’d gone there when he injured the medial collateral ligament of the PIP joint of his ring finger (I think that’s what he injured…).
I was checked in quickly, X-rayed quickly, and diagnosed within 45 minutes of walking in the door. I can’t really express how refreshing a breezy trip through check-in was. I knew I was in the right place when the nurse who took my height and weight remarked, “ah, another rock climber.”
The X-ray showed this:
Dr. Vedder tested my collateral ligaments and was not concerned about those, or that I had fully torn the volar plate (which would require surgery). He said I had partially torn it (which explains the tearing sound), and sent me off to the therapy room.
It turns out that the key to recovering from this injury is movement. Scar tissue will tend to form as the ligament heals, and if left immobilized, the finger will never regain its range of motion. I was told to immediately begin stretching my PIP joint: extend it, flex it, isolate the PIP joint, flex the whole finger…get it moving!
I wanted to emphasize to the doctors that full recovery was paramount…I am, after all, a sponsored rock climber, and my sponsors need to see the sickness. I asked for any tips and tricks for speed-rehab (or speedhab, if you prefer), and was told that running is good (improved circulation), heat is good (same reason), not drinking alcohol or smoking tobacco is good (same reason), and acupuncture, essential oils, and massage can help as well.
I also got a nifty little spring-loaded splint to put on my finger for a few minutes at a time, to help it straighten out.
Needless to say, this was a huge sigh of relief. I’m looking at a few weeks off and a few months of soreness, but with any luck I’ll be better off than I was before.
You see, my left middle finger had poor ROM due to a previous strain, and wouldn’t extend all the way (in hindsight, this is probably why it got stuck in the slot in the first place). I’m already able to extend it to where it was before this injury, and am optimistic that it’ll only get better.
I’m also optimistic that I won’t re-injure it. The mechanism of injury, bending the finger over the back of itself, is such a rare situation in climbing that I just don’t see it happening again. I will likely stay away from Indian Creek finger-locking nightmares for a while, but otherwise should be able to climb lightly starting fairly soon.
And hey, if that fails, I can always chop off my finger and move to a portaledge on El Cap. I can be just like my 9-fingered idol and not send the Dawn Wall. (I’m just kidding. I’d totally send it. TC just asked me not to.)
So now we are in Bellingham, home to one of our favorite climbing gyms, Vital. It’s a co-op, meaning that members can come anytime day or night. I just love the atmosphere…it’s very modern, with reclaimed wood and exposed steel and brick all over, great walls and good setting, and a casual feel. I especially love the self-serve coffee.
Even if I can’t climb, Vital is a good place to hang out, get work done, meet climbers, and get some core exercise in. The Vital staff has been awesome to accommodate us. Thanks Vital!