Experts release indoor climbing injury stats

Posted by Tom Bond on 30/09/2013

Now the winter is fast approaching, all but the most tenacious of climbers will scurry indoors. But just how safe is indoor climbing, and how can you avoid injury?

Well, a new paper published this year by climbing injury guru Volker Schöffl reports the rate of injuries at an indoor climbing wall in Germany as 0.02 injuries per 1,000 hours of climbing time.  This figure is similar to previous studies on climbing and is low in comparison to other sports.
 
Out of 515,337 participants registered with the study, the authors reported 30 injuries in total over a five-year period; six cases whilst bouldering, 16 lead climbing, seven top roping, and one case as a third person (not climbing or belaying) while watching another climber.
 
Bouldering injuries were mostly the result of falls onto the mat, whereas in roped climbing various scenarios happened, but mostly resulting from belaying mistakes. The authors report that many of the injuries were preventable, such as belaying or knot tying mistakes.
 
Looking at severity of the injuries, 15 (50% of total) were UIAA MedCom grade 2, 13 (43%) were grade 3, and 2 (7%) were grade 4, with no fatalities (download PDF for more on UIAA MedCom grades). Injuries happened to beginner climbers in five (16.7%) cases, intermediate climbers in 16 (53.3%), experts in six (20%), and professionals in three (10%) cases.
 
The study was performed prospectively over a five-year period, rather than retrospectively as in previous studies, meaning that less bias could be introduced. The study also had the advantage that climbing time could be monitored exactly due to an electronic entry and exit system at the climbing wall used. Although there was a large number of participants registered in the study (515, 337), this figure could have been even higher due to those involved in group sessions not being counted separately.
 
Demographic data of the study found 63.6% of climbers were male, the remaining female, with ages between eight and 80 years old (median being 34 years old). Average climbing time was 2 hours 47 minutes.
 
In studies such as this, the safety aspect of a sport is given as a number of injuries per 1,000 participation hours. The authors concluded that this study had 0.02 injuries per 1,000 hours of climbing time (similar to previous studies) and also much lower than other sports, such as surfing (13 per 1,000 hours of competitive surfing; Nathason et al 2007) and rugby (91 injuries per 1,000 player hours; Brooks et al 2005).
 
The BMC will be running a BMC Climbing Injury Symposium in November 2014  watch this space.
 
Don’t become a statistic at the wall this winter
 
Warm up! An effective warm up is essential for climbing: you will climb better and are less likely to sustain an injury. With no warm up, performance is compromised, fatigue comes quickly, and injuries are more likely. 
 
 
Know your knots! You may not need to know your French Prusik from your Italian Hitch, but being able to tie a Figure of Eight knot properly is an essential indoor wall climbing skill.
 
 
The BMC Knots booklet is available as a free PDF download
 
Belaying – get it right!  Belaying is a complex skill, requiring practice and experience to become competent. Inattentive belaying is the cause of many climbing accidents, and mistakes can result in serious injuries for climber, belayer or both.
 
 
The BMC Climbing Wall Essentials DVD is a must for any enthusiastic indoor climber, no matter what stage they are at in their climbing development. The material on the DVD can be revisited time and time again as a climber progresses and develops.
 

Tom Bond is chair of the BMC Climbing Walls Committee. Tom is a physiotherapist working for the NHS and recently volunteered as a physiotherapist for the GB Paraclimbing Team at the IFSC International Paraclimbing Cup. Find out more on his blog



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Anonymous User
24/10/2014
Hi Tom.

Thanks for posting this. One point to make though is that there were not 515,000 "participants". The study was based on "visits", not "participants". It would be a very popular climbing wall if it had that number of members! It did seem fishy that there were only 30 accidents for that number of participants...

Chris Sansum
Anonymous User
18/09/2019
Statistics for accidents on auto-belays?

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