How Climbing Cured My Back Pain

Okay, so I lied a little.  It isn’t completely gone.  I still have days with slight pain after I’ve sat in the car and driven around for just a little too long, or transferred a patient or moved a box wrong.  But for the most part, my everyday back pain is displaced.

Now, onto the science-y stuff.

According to UPMC, these are five top contributors to back pain:

  1. Sedentary Lifestyle
  2. Lifting
  3. Weight
  4. Smoking
  5. Mood

So let’s tackle each of these just in case it isn’t obvious.

#1.  Sedentary Lifestyle

Even in it’s laziest form, climbing is an intense workout. After my first few sessions,  I couldn’t open my door the next day.  My forearms were shot and the twisting motion (elbow pronation ;)) was too much for me.  As I continued, it got easier, I fell more in love, and started going harder.  Many gyms have additional places where you can build strength and do cardio–it’s like your standard gym, only way better!

Then, there’s the outdoor aspect.  Cragging can be a super short hike, while alpine climbing can have a grueling approach to the actual climb, and mountaineering is just a pain in the ass (albeit a rewarding pain in the ass) either way.  There’s your cardio, and you’re welcome!

Climbing itself is said to burn between 500 and 900 calories per hour (via, which might be why I’m not obese.

#2. Lifting

I’m not going to say I can lift anything heavier (although I’m sure I could) or with better form, because I don’t really pay attention to those things.  But I CAN say that my entire body is much stronger, from my core developed when gym bouldering intense overhanging features, to my shoulder girdle and back muscles used constantly to keep close to the wall.  When I started climbing, I couldn’t even do a pull-up. Now I can do a few.

#3. Weight

Didn’t you read before??? 500-900 calories AN HOUR!  That’s just climbing, too!  It doesn’t include the approach or the descent from the route (if climbing outside), and to be honest an hour in a climbing gym is a short day as long as you’re adequately resting. And, like I mentioned before, gyms have other stuff to do too!

#4. Smoking

Ok, this one I can’t really say has changed as I never smoked before and I know a few climbers who continue to smoke (Mick Burke and Phil Ershler, for example).  Apparently, people have smoked on the top of Everest as well, although it is a fire hazard with the oxygen.  And while I’ve never smoked, I’d imagine that a tough trip up a moderate slope would be enough to make me want to stop.  That’s the reason I started going to the gym in the first place; going up stairs shouldn’t make me want to die… and think about the zombies, man!

#5. Mood

How can you be unhappy when you’re doing something you love?!

Take it from this guy, he knows:

 Or this fish:

Or this guy and this fish

 after a long hike to High Camp on Baker

and waiting for the weather to clear:

To be honest, climbing itself probably didn’t heal my back.  I’m sure it was the combination of all of these things that I found in climbing that helped me.  Swimming could have done the same thing, although I hate water, or weight lifting, although that’s boring, or even MMA, but I’m too small for that and I don’t like pain.  Climbing helped because I fell in love with it in a way that I couldn’t fall in love with anything else.

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